Southampton and Portsmouth - a special rivalry
By Alex Fairchild
In the south of England, two bitter rivals have played role reversal as opposed to football the last few years. At least it would seem that way, as the Premier League and Football League traded the boys from Saint Mary's with their Fratton Park neighbors in a perverse, sport edition of Wife Swap. Several years ago, Southampton battled in the Football League, while Portsmouth was in the hunt for European football.
Then, financial turmoil took Pompey by storm. The overspending of Harry Redknapp forced the club into administration, along with careless management. Due to the club's inability to pay its assets, players left the squad, seeing the team drop down to the third tier of English football.
Meanwhile, their coastal partners were gearing up for a promotion run in Portsmouth's current division though, they hit a substantial bloc in 2009. Just like Pompey, Southampton's growth was held by administration. Showing up their opponents, the Saints came marching back with a bang. Earning promotion to the Championship in 2011 and as runners-up in 2012, the red and whites were headed to the top flight, while Fratton Park mourned its own relegation.
The Hampshire Derby reconvened in 2010, as the two sides met in an FA Cup tie, which resulted in a win 4-1 win for Portsmouth. Both clubs reached a paradox a year ago, facing each other in league ties, both of which turned out as stalemates. What was seemingly impossible four years before, when Pompey took its second FA Cup, was about to come true, as the Saints leapfrogged the Blues.
Against Manchester City Southampton showed what they have to offer the English Premier League. The squad is full of talented players and has a top gaffer in former goalkeeper Nigel Adkins. At the Etihad Stadium, Jack Rodwell's introduction to the Citizens' XI was supposed to be the story of the day, as cameras hovered around the defensive midfielder prior to kick-off. While the ex-Everton youngster got off to a decent start, he gave in to the organization and persistence of Southampton. Adkins lined his team up in a 4-1-4-1, a formation clear to the eye, as a flat midfield four sat in front of Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin. Rodwell's loan counterpart anchored the Saints' play in the neutral third of the pitch and proved effective in clogging the middle of the pitch when City went on the offensive. The No. 4 for Adkins did well to see off Yaya Toure, Rodwell, and David Silva on multiple occasions, as he used his physical presence to win the ball. However, like the rest of the Southampton team, he became fatigued. The rigid shape held for the majority of the match bottomed out when Edin Dzeko poached CIty's equalizer. Left unmarked, the Saints' zonal defending in their 18 yard box failed them, relinquishing their hopes of an unprecedented victory.
Kelvin Davies, among others, did well to keep the southsiders in the match, granted David Silva missed a penalty and a volley on an open net. Earning top marks, it was himself and Rickie Lambert who stole the headlines. Many were puzzled as to why the star man did not start for a club he led to this new zenith. However, Adkins looked a genius when a well-taken Lambert strike found its way past Joe Hart bring the underdogs level. For the remainder of the match, the substitute functioned as the out-and-out striker, a role which he performed well in, with the help of captain Adam Lallana and service from the well-traveled Jason Puncheon.
Perhaps the brightest part of Southampton’s future comes in the form of the athletic right back, Nathaniel Clyne. Raised by the Crystal Palace youth academy, the 21 year old Englishman showed his ability to get up and down the flanks. The back’s tactical positioning was superb, outside of set pieces, as he timed his runs forward very well.
Five years his senior, Danny Fox plays opposite the summer signing. On the left, the Scot is versatile, as is Clyne, in his ability to get forward and back with speed. His adept skills should be exposed against weaker teams, where he will have license to maraud forward on a regular basis.
Along the coast it is a sorry scene at Fratton Park. The small ground has been robbed by investors from Hong Kong and Russia. First team regulars have not been paid in full for what seems an eternity. Liquidation could be a stark reality for the historic club, if a saviour does not arise at the eleventh hour.
It has been brilliant to see “lower level” clubs compete with the big spenders over the last three campaigns. Blackpool a 4-3-3, Swansea used tiki-taka, and now it appears Southampton will attempt to hold their own against the Premier League’s top sides, with their deadly striker, sharp midfield, and fearless backs in full force.
Left with £50 million of debt, an opaque cloud looms over Pompey - quite the juxtaposition, when one considers the heavenly skies next door.
But football is a funny old game isn’t it? In four years time, the top flight and the Football League may decide to return their spouses to one another.