Southampton? In the Champions League? It’s far from impossible. On the eve of a probable three-pointer at home to Swansea, Mick Strickland of the London Saints supporters’ group speaks to Tony Dawber.
TV’s breathless pundits may be focused on tomorrow’s clash of the giants between Chelsea and Manchester City’s – but who’s that in third place?
Southampton? What are they doing there?
In three words, very well actually.
And victory over off-key Swansea at St Mary’s on Sunday will increase the possibility that Saints might just nick a Champions League spot.
‘The chance of staying in the top four is growing the longer the season goes on,’ said Mick Strickland, chairman of the London Saints supporters’ group and a lifelong fan.
‘We are getting into February now and we’re still there. Fans believe we are a side that’s very hard to beat and we’re up there on merit.’
The critics felt last year’s heady campaign could not be repeated after the exodus of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, and Ricky Lambert.
But they were wrong, and Strickland has no doubt why.
‘Ronald Koeman is the key,’ he said.
‘We chose well. Not only is he an experienced coach, but at Feyenoord , who were not big financially, he had to bring young players through. Several are now in the Dutch national side.
‘We needed someone who could do the same and he is proving a great choice.’
Strickland conceded that a spell of bad luck with injuries could still derail the Saints bandwagon, but understandably said the fans were enjoying the ride and couldn’t care less that the pundits were largely ignoring their efforts.
‘Even if we hit a bad patch and dropped out of the top four, most fans would have been happy with that before the season began,’ he said.
Heady days indeed, and as Strickland recalled, it has brought back memories of 1984, when Southampton were league runners up and finished just three points behind the then all-conquering Liverpool.
So, as opposed to Blackburn, Cardiff, even Manchester United, foreign ownership might just work?
‘Yes, but a good number of Premier League clubs are foreign-owned and there’s a feeling you have to have that backing to compete,’ Strickland said.
Difficult to argue, especially when you consider neighbours and rivals Portsmouth, now fan-owned and financially stable, are struggling to keep from falling out the league altogether.
‘I think most fans will accept foreign owners if their side are doing well,’ concludes Strickland.