Perilously close to being involved in relegating two clubs in one season

Photograph: David Blunsden/Action Plus via Getty Images


If Southampton lose at Swansea, their players will be locked in a disused lighthouse and whipped for several weeks with dead seagulls before being fed to a harem of foul-tempered seals. Sorry, reader, The Fiver has just seen some previews and felt the need to test a theory, which turns out to be unsound: it clearly is possible to overstate the importance of Tuesday’s big relegation showdown.

But it’s a doozy of a clash, all the same, and definitely not the sort that a manager would want to lose without an excuse. Happily, Ailsa from Home and Away has one to hand if required, thanks to the Marriott hotel in Swansea. Southampton turned up there on Monday and prepared to tuck Nathan Redmond into bed when staff informed the club their booking could not be fulfilled because of a sudden outbreak of a virus. Mysteriously, the hotel’s website suggested other guests could still be accommodated but Southampton were told to go elsewhere, and the only place that could meet their princess-and-the-pea like criteria is close to Cardiff. The switch could add at least an hour to Southampton’s pre-match drive. So that’s effectively a two-goal lead for Swansea already, right?

That wouldn’t be a unique feat, in fairness. In fact, it could be the start of a hat-trick like the one English football enjoyed in the 1980s. Ron Saunders got the ball rolling in 1986 when, five years after winning the title with Aston Villa, he gilded his legendary status at Villa Park by leading Birmingham City and West Brom towards the drop. Villa fans didn’t get to laugh about that for long, though. Because the following season they went down under Billy McNeill, hired after leaving Manchester City, who went down with them. And the season after that Dave Bassett completed things in style, leaving Watford when they were falling out of the top flight only to take over Sheffield United, who were promptly relegated to the third tier.

It would be some going to join that roll of honour, not least because it would entail failing to win against a Swansea side that have only scored two goals in their last seven matches and appear to be running exclusively on Carlos Carvalhal’s amusing metaphors. Hope also comes from knowing that, while Southampton face Manchester City on the final day of the season, Swansea’s last match is against Ailsa’s fallen former club, Stoke.


Promotion’s Neil Warnock sounds like he’s ready to make a few friends with his Cardiff tactics in the Premier League next season. “We’re going to ruffle a few feathers,” he roared. “That’s all we can do. It’s not rocket science when you take that top six out.”

Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

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