Verdict: Saints 0 Burnley 1

Last updated : 20 April 2008 By Saint Bobby

A performance which was a bewildering mixture of spirited determination and haplessness means Saints' fate may no longer be in their own hands - unless they can get a result away at league leaders West Brom on Monday week.

In the final three hours of play this season, two Saints strikers from the halcyon days of top-flight football - James Beattie and Kevin Phillips - now have the opportunity of putting their diminished and belittled former club to the sword.

The pain and torment is magnified by the knowledge that a win today against Burnley would have all but secured Championship status for next year. If Southampton do somehow contrive to stay in the second tier, no one will be able to accuse them of doing it the easy way. Today's results have seen the bookmakers slash the odds of Saints being relegated to 2/1, down from 40/1 last Summer.


Southampton named an unchanged side, with Surman as makeshift left-back, Jermaine Wright on the opposite flank and Perry and Lucketti in the centre with loanee Richard Wright between the sticks.

Euell began in left midfield, Licka on the right and skipper Safri anchoring just behind Idiakez. Stern John and Bradley Wright-Phillips started upfront. There was no space for a recognised defender on the bench, which consisted of Davis, Viafara, Saganowski, Dyer and Pericard.

First half - effort but no end product

Saints set about their task with energy and vigour, but little imagination in the final third of the pitch. Whilst the Burnley backline were put under pressure, goalkeeper Brian Jensen had little to do. A burst of corner kicks just before the half hour mark were all curled in deep to the far post, but competently dealt with by the Clarets' defence.

The first meaningful save of the half came as Surman accelerated down the left wing and drilled in a shot that was powerfully punched out by the Burnley stopper. With half-time beckoning, Perry conceded a soft freekick after Euell had needlessly lost the ball. Richard Wright's excellent save from the set piece proved to be in vain as the visitors snatched the lead from the resulting corner.

A stunned St. Mary's groaned as the half-time whistle was sounded seconds later. At this stage, however, news from elsewhere seemed faintly encouraging.

Second half - increasing desperation

Wright-Phillips should have levelled the scores within a minute of the restart, but his effort richocheted off the wordwork. Euell failed to make the rebound count. Burnley were content to sit back and counter. And the referee's apparent determination to not use his cards for continual foul play only encouraged the visitors to close down with venom.

Dyer replaced Licka with twenty-five minutes to go and brought real pace, but little imagination, to the right-wing. Once Idiakez's strong effort with fifteen minutes to go was tipped wide, that increasingly familiar "it's not going to be our day" sentiment began to engulf players and supporters alike.

Throwing Viafara and Saganowski on with ten minutes remaining was a last throw of the dice. But it was to no effect. Safri's excellent last-gasp effort from outside the box was superbly turned over the bar and with news filtering through of Leicester and Coventry winning, the relatively relaxed optimism of three o'clock felt light years away.

Verdict - 180 minutes left to survive

The last couple of games of the season may not have the glamour of a cup run or the media intensity of a Premiership survival bid. But given the club's parlous financial state and its viscous circle of decline, these are probably the most important 180 minutes of football for Southampton Football Club since I made the insane, masochistic decision to become a fan nearly three decades ago.

If Saints do plunge through the trapdoor, expect what gems of talent that remain on the playing staff to be swiftly jettisoned. Truly, things have never looked bleaker.