The Saints looked down and out just over three years, and Adrian Houghton believes their return to England's top flight deserves plenty of plaudits
By ADRIAN HOUGHTON
April 2009 – Southampton receive a 10-point reduction and are relegated to League One of English football.
It compounded a miserable decline that once saw the club as FA Cup runners-up, UEFA Cup participants and eighth in the English Premier League six years prior.
Dark days appeared to be on the horizon for the neutral observer, but those who have played and followed the proud outfit stood defiant, taking immediate action to resurrect a forlorn situation.
Club legend Matt Le Tissier headed a consortium to outlay a non-refundable fee of £500,000 to pay employees at the club and buy the club time to negotiate with potential owners.
Enter: Markus Liebherr.
A German-born Swiss businessmen and prominent entrepreneur became the new owner of the club in a rumoured £13-15 million takeover.
Virtually an unexpected buyer with no previous football background, an extract from the now deceased Liebherr’s first official statement is a fond reminder of his fervent ambition.
"We will assemble a strong management team at every level of the club. We will act rapidly, but also plan for the long term, because I am here for the long term," the statement read.
Keeping to his promise, the club took no time announcing Alan Pardew as the club’s new manager - a strong statement of intention.
It was a real coup to land a highly experienced boss for a team plying their trade in League One.
The Saints then bought Bristol Rovers striker Rickie Lambert into the setup and a host of other astute purchases; the plan was evolving quickly.
Lamber's 30 goals in the 2009-10 campaign left the side seven points adrift of a playoff position, bearing in mind a 10-point reduction incurred from the season previous.
It would not be long, however - the marker had been set and renewed optimism around St Mary’s was prevalent.
Former Scunthorpe United boss Nigel Adkins replaced the departing Pardew and with a touch of naivety, the club’s rise to prominence had just begun.
He masterminded his third League One promotion as a manager in his first season at the helm, as expectations continued to soar under his guidance.
Pundits gave the club deserved praise upon their return to the second tier of English football, but doubts circled strongly about their ambitions for the coming year.
Any grave fears about a battling to avoid the drop were quickly quashed, as the Saints recorded their best start to a season in 75 years.
Adkins and his men created a strong platform for the remainder of a long arduous season in the Championship.
Clever and economical acquisitions have become a feature of Adkins’s reign with the South Coast club, and the introduction of Billy Sharp was no exception.
After turning down a move in the year earlier, Southampton got their man and it proved a masterstroke.
His immediate impact at St Marys alleviated a threatening 'New Years Hangover' as the team regained their form through his goalscoring heroics – nine goals in 15 games.
Premier League status was restored with a 4-0 drubbing of relegated Coventry on the last day of the campaign via automatic promotion, the club never slipping out of the top two from the opening day of the season.
Adkins had achieved back-to-back promotions for the first time in the club’s history, his status at the Saints assured.
A remarkable turnaround had been completed, climbing two divisions in three years.
Southampton were back in the top-flight following a seven year exodus.
They now find themselves a point above the relegation zone after seven games.
And while their play has been a joy to watch, Adkins side has shipped 20 goals - the most of any team in the competition.
It is a pressing issue he will need to give strong consideration to over the international break.
But for now, with just under a fortnight’s layoff, it is as good a time as any to revel in the story of Southampton Football Club and their welcome return to England’s top division.
Staring down the barrel of football obscurity, the Saints' gritty and determined hierarchy has produced somewhat of a fairytale.
It was is a story rivals Portsmouth - with their sorry and sad state of affairs - can take some solace and inspiration from.