“When The Bailiffs Go Marching In”

A wet and windy evening in Hampshire played host to Southampton’s televised clash against Bristol City, and it was an evening that signalled future questions of both clubs. Southampton, with their elegant and impressive St Mary’s Stadium, built in 2001 to replace the Dell was a sign of their intention to expand and build on their impressive stay in the top top flight of 30 years.

However, the move away from the intimidating and claustrophobic Dell and into the state of the art St Mary’s Stadium didn’t enhance the club on the pitch as the Saints were relegated under the management of Harry Redknapp in 2004. Despite several high profile departures bringing in plenty of much needed finances, Gareth Bale (5m), Theo Walcott (5m), James Beattie (6m) and Peter Crouch (7m) the club failed to gain instant promotion from The Championship. In doing so, the Hampshire side lost the parachute payments made to recently relegated Premier League teams and had to sell players in order to re-structure the wage bill.

As the squad became more fragmented with changes of managers and players alike, the club slipped into a downward spiral and only survived relegation to League One on the final day of the season. The match was against Sheffield United and a 3-2 win in front of a sell out 31,000 crowd. This season, the crowd which filled the pitch on that emotional day have stayed away from St Mary’s with average crowds of 15,000 and the half empty stadium feels stale, soulless and beyond its means. Wholesale changes to the squad, with experienced players on high wages released, such as Inigo Idiakez, Darren Powell and Claus Lundekvam has seen the club take a bold stance and give Academy graduates the chance to shine. After years of trying to get out of the league with players of Premier League experience, and therefore wages, the club must be applauded for the brave decision to bed in youth.

The average age of the current squad is just 24, with most coming through the club’s impressive academy system. Taking charge of this raw set of players is 1974 world cup winner Jan Poortvliet, whose total football approach has filtered through to his exciting, but inexperienced lineup. The side, with attack minded, pacy players such as Andrew Surman, Jack Cork and David McGoldrick play high tempo football but are being punished for their mistakes.

The match unfolded with Dele Adebola being absolutely monumental playing as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation, giving the 19 year old centre halves Alex Pearce and Oliver Lancashire a lesson in physical and direct play. Not surprising, really as the 33 year old Bristol City forward was recently described by Coventry boss Chris Coleman as “The strongest player in the league.”

Adebola was instrumental in the only goal of the game as he shrugged off the attention of both Lancashire and Pearce and struck a left footed shot against the bar. The rebound fell to David Noble on the half volley who squared the ball to Lee Johnson, and his first time shot beat Kelvin Davis in the Southampton goal. The centre midfielder, son of manager Gary Johnson celebrated his goal with a passionate display of redemption having been ironically cheered off the pitch at Ashton Gate last week as he was substituted. This constant argument of nepotism has followed the player throughout his career at Yeovil and now Bristol City. Johnson said of his celebrations, “It was the celebration of a player who hadn’t scored for a while. There was a lot of passion and frustration in it.”

As the Bristol City travelling support sang in full voice, the emptiness of the stadium became more apparent, and Jan Poortvliet said of his sides “Fear of playing in front of the home crowd.” A clear sign that the young team find it hard to believe they are worthy of such a setting because of the negative atmosphere around the purpose built stadium.

 However, as Southampton pressed for an equaliser, the atmosphere became partisan and intimidating, as if the ghost of The Dell was returning to give it’s killer some new life. Lead by calls from Kelvin Davis with his waving arms for more support, chants of “When The Saints Go Marching In” rang around the ground. I imagined that a full capacity would cause a racket similar to that of Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium, recently announced as The Premier League’s noisiest stadium.

The setting is built for the Premier League, where as local rivals Portsmouth hold their home games at the modest Fratton Park, but they are current FA Cup winners and taking on AC Milan in the Uefa Cup next week. Appearances can be deceptive in life, something Bristol City have to take into consideration when building their new stadium at Ashton Vale.

2 Responses to ““When The Bailiffs Go Marching In””

  1. Dave Stopher Says:

    Will City ever get to the Premier League this season. I always thought that Bristol City would go through to the Premier League this season.

  2. rossverbals Says:

    This season, the teams which should have been where we were last season are there. Sheffield United, Wolves, Cardiff and QPR should have done better last season. Add to that the three relegated teams, Reading, Deby and Birmingham and you have a very competitive league.

    I am a fan and I always believe, but in reality we should be aiming to stay in contention rather than being runaway leaders.

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