His career with them having spanned 200 games, five years and three divisions, Jose Fonte has seen most things at Southampton. But nothing quite like the upheaval the club experienced last summer.
“I can’t be a hypocrite and lie,” the skipper reflected after helping ensure Manchester United’s grasp on third place in the Premier League lasted no longer than a couple of hours. “I was worried. Everyone was worried.”
The 31-year-old had every right to be, and he certainly wasn’t alone. Southampton’s summer of discontent seems a world away when viewed through the prism of their refreshingly welcome tilt at a top four finish, but at the time the crisis felt very real.
They were at various points managerless, rudderless and, seemingly hopeless as a procession of influential players headed for the exit, and with it, so it appeared, any hope of avoiding relegation.
The pundits, lemmings that they are, couldn’t wait to write them off. The startling attempt to rewrite history by some of these so-called experts in the aftermath of the rally orchestrated by Ronald Koeman has been one of the more satisfying aspects of the season, as they scramble to disassociate themselves from their errant predictions.
“We lost a lot of good players, and it didn’t look good for us,” Fonte added. “But then we appointed the manager it became easier. We started signing players and confidence grew, slowly at first.”
And then there was the Morgan Schneiderlin saga. “As the weeks went by, we got one or two good signings, but the saga with Morgan was difficult to take,” Fonte added. “That was a big concern but when he decided to stay that was massive for us, and it was a turning point when Morgan’s head changed. From that moment, the worrying stopped.”
Schneiderlin was among the notable injury absences as slick finishes in each half from Eljero Elia, his first goals on loan from Werder Bremen, proved decisive. Southampton have prospered of late despite losing several key players to knocks and international calls. They have 42 points, good enough to put them third with a tally some felt it would take them well into next season — one no doubt in the Championship — to accumulate.
Their goals arrived either side of a fortunate equaliser from Yoan Gouffran, the Newcastle midfielder’s first goal for 13 months ballooning in off an attempted Florin Gardos clearance. Thereafter, the hosts’ luck ran out, and Graziano Pelle should have embellished the margin of victory with a header against the bar.
Newcastle arrived in Dubai yesterday for a winter training camp not so much having to counter accusations that their season is already over, more to address concerns that they are in a terminal decline that could yet end in relegation.
It’s one victory in nine for a side set to be without its top scorer, Papiss Cisse, for another three weeks on African Cup of Nations duty. Add in their latest unconvincing defensive display and the continued uncertainty over Alan Pardew’s successor — three weeks without a resolution — and it’s a potent mix for abject failure.
“We can’t drift,” John Carver, the caretaker manager, insisted, of a club that is doing exactly that. A string of poor results look to have ruled the 50-year-old out of taking the job full-time, although whether he was ever in the running is debatable.
“We need a resolution quickly,” Carver added. “They (the board) said there would be a conversation coming up pretty soon, even if it’s down to me to force that. I have to, for my peace of mind. As you can tell, I’m getting a little bit frustrated now.”
NEWCASTLE (4-2-3-1): Krul 5; Janmaat 3, Coloccini 5, Dummett 5 (Williamson 80, 5), Hadara 5; Colback 6, Anita 5 (Riviere 68, 6); Cabella 6, Sissoko 6, Gouffran 6 (Ameobi 70, 5); Perez 6.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-1-4-1): Forster 7; Clyne 7, Fonte 8, Gardos 7, Bertrand 7; Reed 8; Tadic 4 (Long 60, 6), Ward-Prowse 8 (Cork 60, 6), S Davis 7, Elia 9 (Targett 82, 6); Pelle 7.
Referee: Robert Madley 7.