Lowdown on Saints
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There was little in the way of transfer activity at Southampton this close season, but there was one very major investment which made its competitive debut on day one — a shiny new stadium in St Mary’s.
Saints have been desperate to build a new venue for some years now and they finally have a stadium compatible with the Premiership’s glitzy image. While the Dell was compact, full of character and loved by many a Southampton worshipper, it simply did not generate the revenue to enable Saints to compete on a level playing field with other top-flight sides.
Which makes all the more remarkable the fact that they have remained in the top division since 1978.
The confined surroundings and atmosphere of the Dell may well have been worth a few points a season to the South Coast side — rarely has a visiting player admitted to have enjoyed playing there. The difficulty with a new arena is that players might just start doing just that.
But with a capacity of double that the Dell, the new stadium could well herald a bright new era — and a few more tickets for away fans.
St Mary’s welcomed Premiership football for the first time on opening day when Chelsea came a calling. A packed house was present to witness the new beginnings, but the Londoners spoiled the party somewhat, taking away all three points after a 2-0 victory. A trip to Leeds proved to be no more fruitful for Stuart Gray’s side.
Gray was appointed during the summer in succession to Glenn, having taken over on a caretaker basis following his late-season return to the Lane.
The former Nottingham Forest star was a member of Glenn’s backroom team and was promoted on a temporary basis while speculation abounded that anyone from Kevin Keegan to Steve McLaren to Harry Redknapp was on the verge of landing the job.
But Saints have generally had a liking for continuity, and Gray proved that, after a sticky start, he could coax the best out of the players — as victories over Arsenal and Manchester United showed.
Hassan Kachloul was the only major summer departure, leaving on free for Aston Villa, while Rory Delap was the big-name in-comer, recruited for £4m from Derby.
He was joined by Paul Murray from QPR, Jacinta Ela Eyene from Espanyol and Anders Svensson (pictured) from Elfsborg.
Gray also beefed up his support system by luring experienced coach Mick Wadsworth down from Newcastle — a move that infuriated Bobby Robson.
Gray, along with West Ham’s Glenn Roeder, are being talked about in some quarters as being the new breed of young English coaches. Both clubs are most likely hoping that the appointment of a fresh untried coach with new ideas may have the same galvanising effect that David O’Leary had on Leeds.
Meanwhile, Gray must ensure that points are put on the board at regular intervals to guard against St Mary’s becoming one of the finest grounds in the Nationwide League. After enjoying such success at the Dell a little homesickness is understandable, but coupled with travel sickness it could be fatal in the race for Premiership longevity.