The year of 2012 has seen plenty of memorable sporting action for everyone to talk about for years to come. It was no different for Southampton Football Club. The Saints enjoyed a superb second half to the 2011/2012 season by securing their second consecutive promotion to the Premier League. It would be the first time in seven years, that the club would play in the top flight of English football and so far, it has been a mixed campaign for Nigel Adkins. Despite this, the Saints are gathering some form which can only bring positives into the New Year.
Cast your mind back to last January, where the Saints came into 2012 as leaders of the Championship. Possible back-to-back promotions was on the cards for Nigel Adkins’ men. However, they had a day to forget at the Amex Stadium as they lost 3-0 to Brighton, which included a red card for talisman Rickie Lambert. The Saints had more success on their travels in their next two matches; a narrow victory against Coventry in the FA Cup and a comprehensive 3-0 result at relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest. Next for the Saints, was the Monday Night Football (Championship style) against Leicester City at St. Mary’s. A terrible all-round performance from the hosts fell to a rare 2-0 home defeat and the fans were questioning how the team would cope without Lambert. The Liverpudlian scored on his return to the side in the 1-1 draw at Millwall in the FA Cup. Lambert also scored on his league return in the score draw at home to Cardiff, where it came from the penalty spot. Nigel Adkins added more fire-power to his attack by brining Billy Sharp and Japanese international, Tadanari Lee to St. Mary’s in the transfer window. Could the new strikers help the Saints to promotion to the Premier League?
Onto February, Saints fans will never forget the trip to St. Andrews to face Birmingham as heavy snow overnight caused doubts whether the match would go ahead. Amazingly, the contest took place in the snow, but it ended in a stalemate, despite the Saints having Danny Fox sent off late on for a second booking. Three days later, was the FA Cup replay against Millwall where the Saints came out on the wrong side of a 3-2 result. Nigel Adkins’ men returned to winning ways with a home victory over Burnley and secured a terrific draw at West Ham. The Saints fans would see their side score seven goals in their final two games of the month. Four of them were against Derby, including a thunderbolt from Tadanari Lee and the other three came on the road at Watford, where Rickie Lambert scored his second hat-trick of the season.
A difficult trip to Elland Road awaited Southampton at the start of March and it would be a tense 90 minutes for everybody connected to the club. Lambert’s first-time volley put the visitors one-up inside 16 minutes, but from then in, it was to be a barricade of attacks from Leeds. A man-of-the-match performance from Kelvin Davis kept out the hosts at every opportunity and the Saints returned to the south coast with all three points. Two home games followed for Southampton, where they secured a draw and a victory against Ipswich and Barnsley respectively. One of the most defining matches of the season came at The Den where Southampton staged a fighting comeback to win 3-2 in the last ten minutes of the match, thanks to two Lambert penalties. That weekend would be one to remember for Lambert personally. The day after the dramatic win in South-East London, the 30-year-old was named the 2012 Championship Player of the Year at the Football League Awards. He won the honour ahead of team-mate Adam Lallana and Cardiff City's Peter Whittingham to cap off a wonderful weekend. Nigel Adkins’ men recorded two more wins at Hull and at home to Doncaster, but their 12-match unbeaten run came to an end with a comprehensive 3-0 defeat to Blackpool at Bloomfield Road.
The final month of the 2011/2012 season (April) began with El Clasicoast Part II at St. Marys. After a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture, Southampton were determined to take the bragging rights for the first time since November 2004. It was a thrilling derby with great goals but again for the Saints, a late Pompey goal meant the points had to be shared. On Easter Monday, 6,000 Saints fans made the trip to Crystal Palace to re-create the atmosphere of Dellhurst Park back in 1999. Two more goals for Lambert sealed the win for Southampton which set up a big game at the top on the Fright night against Reading at St. Mary’s. Despite coming from behind to equalise, the Saints couldn’t capitalise, as the Royals came out 3-1 winners and took over as Championship leaders. The Saints responded with a 3-1 win of their own at struggling Peterborough, where a Billy Sharp double and a Jos Hooiveld header settled the game at London Road.
The penultimate game of the season was potentially a massive one for the Saints as they knew that a win at Middlesbrough would secure promotion back to the Premier League. Three thousand Saints fans made the 297 mile trip to the Riverside Stadium for a potential party and after 47 seconds, it was the Saints fans were in raptures as Billy Sharp gave the visitors the lead. Middlesbrough equalised before half-time through Nicky Bailey before Merouane Zemmama’s superb free-kick sealed the win for Tony Mowbray’s men. It was a chance missed from Southampton, but, they would have another chance against already-relegated Coventry City at St. Mary’s.
The scene was set for one of the greatest days in Southampton Football Club’s history with a record-breaking attendance. Nigel Adkins’ men got off to the perfect start as Billy Sharp deflected Adam Lallana’s strike before José Fonte’s diving header doubled their advantage. Jos Hooiveld capitalised on the loose ball to fire home Southampton’s third before Adam Lallana completed the scoring. As the final whistle blew, thousands of Saints fans filled the pitch in delight as their club secured back-to-back promotions. Fantastic sights of the players being lifted by the fans and the celebrations continued in the dressing room and out of the executive seating in what was an amazing season for Southampton Football Club.
Part Two is coming up tomorrow where the second half of 2012 will see how Southampton cope for the first few months of their first campaign back in the Premier League for seven years!