The stars looking to replicate 10-game wonder who pulled Southampton to 2012 promotion

Southamp­ton will have to have an incred­i­ble end to the sea­son if they are to secure an auto­mat­ic pro­mo­tion spot.

Rus­sell Martin‘s side have entered the final inter­na­tion­al break of this sea­son fourth in the Cham­pi­onship with ten league games remain­ing and ground to make up on those above them.

Due to the recent­ly post­poned match­es against Pre­ston and Leices­ter City, Southamp­ton have a game in hand on the Fox­es in sec­ond place and two games on both Ipswich Town in third and Leeds Unit­ed at the top of the table.

All four sides could end the sea­son on a points tal­ly that would secure auto­mat­ic pro­mo­tion in almost any oth­er sea­son such is the pace being kept at the sum­mit of England’s sec­ond tier. Southamp­ton cur­rent­ly have 73 points from their 36 games, with Ipswich on 81 after 38, Leices­ter on 82 after 37 and Leeds on 82 after 38 but boast­ing a supe­ri­or goal over Leices­ter by one goal.

Southamp­ton would undoubt­ed­ly pre­fer points on the board over fix­tures in hand, espe­cial­ly as the rearrange­ment of the post­poned fix­tures means they now face the prospect of play­ing their remain­ing ten games across just 36 days.

Even if it is assumed that Southamp­ton do man­age to win both of their match­es in hand – which is far from guar­an­teed giv­en the cal­i­bre of oppo­nents – they will still find them­selves off the pace and will need a hero­ic end to the sea­son to secure pro­mo­tion.

The play­ers with­in Martin’s squad could draw inspi­ra­tion from the club’s suc­cess­ful cam­paign last time they were in the Cham­pi­onship in the 2011/12 sea­son, which cul­mi­nat­ed in a sur­prise sec­ond place fin­ish a year after pro­mo­tion from League One.

That squad is under­stand­ably remem­bered fond­ly amongst the fan­base, but one play­er in par­tic­u­lar real­ly took the bull by the horns in the busi­ness end of that cam­paign to get the Saints over the line and to the promised land of the Pre­mier League after a sev­en-sea­son absence.

Billy Sharp goals key to promotion in 2012

Southampton v Portsmouth - npower Championship
Pho­to by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Southamp­ton signed Bil­ly Sharp from fel­low Cham­pi­onship side Don­cast­er Rovers in Jan­u­ary of 2012, iden­ti­fy­ing that they were over-reliant on the goals of Rick­ie Lam­bert in their fight for pro­mo­tion.

Hav­ing led the table for almost the entire­ty of the sea­son, the Saints had lost three in their last four when Sharp arrived and had seen West Ham Unit­ed over­take them at the top of the league. Sharp had scored ten goals and pro­vid­ed two assists in 20 Cham­pi­onship games for a strug­gling Don­cast­er side, so adding the strik­er to an attack that includ­ed Lam­bert and was being fed by the cre­ativ­i­ty of Adam Lal­lana was an inspired deci­sion.

Sharp, then 26, made an instant impact as he scored on his Saints debut as Nigel Adkins’ side saw off Burn­ley 2–0. It was in the final ten games – the stage of the sea­son Martin’s side find them­selves at now – in which Sharp real­ly pro­vid­ed the goals that dragged Southamp­ton to sec­ond spot.

The now Hull City strik­er scored eight goals in the final ten games of the sea­son, includ­ing two against for­mer club Don­cast­er, two against bit­ter rivals Portsmouth and the goal that opened the scor­ing in the final day 4–0 win over Coven­try City that secured pro­mo­tion.

In an arti­cle by The Ath­let­ic look­ing back at Sharp’s career as he became the all-time top goalscor­er in the Cham­pi­onship in Jan­u­ary 2022 with his 122nd strike (now 130), for­mer Saints boss Adkins reflect­ed on the deci­sion to bring Sharp to the club.

Adkins said: “We couldn’t just rely on Rick­ie (Lam­bert) scor­ing all the goals. So, we got Bil­ly in. It took him a bit of time to get used to what we were like. He wasn’t quite fit, cer­tain­ly in terms of the fit­ness we had. But he came in and scored some valu­able goals.”

Who will be Southampton’s hero in the promotion race?

Southampton FC v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship
Pho­to by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The cur­rent crop of Southamp­ton play­ers are like­ly to need some valu­able goals of their own between now and the end of the sea­son.

For­mer team­mate of Sharp at Don­cast­er, James Cop­pinger, spoke of how “Scor­ing goals is almost like a super­pow­er, some­thing not many peo­ple have. But Bil­ly (Sharp) has, thanks to that dri­ve and deter­mi­na­tion to be the best.”

The man most like­ly to pro­vide said goals in Martin’s side is top goalscor­er Adam Arm­strong, with his 18 league goals mak­ing him the sec­ond top scor­er in the Cham­pi­onship behind Black­burn Rovers’ Sam­mie Szmod­ics. How­ev­er, when you account for both goals and assists, Arm­strong is com­fort­ably the biggest goal con­trib­u­tor in the league with his 11 assists tak­ing him to 29 goal con­tri­bu­tions.

Sharp was a mid-sea­son sign­ing in 2012 and the Saints added two play­ers to their ranks this Jan­u­ary, with David Brooks and Joe Roth­well both join­ing on loan from Bournemouth. Roth­well has only start­ed two league games but has con­tributed with two braces; his four goals so far includ­ing a stun­ning strike in a dra­mat­ic 5–3 win over Hud­der­s­field Town that saw him win the Cham­pi­onship Goal of the Month award for Feb­ru­ary.

Brooks has already shown his qual­i­ty in his short time at the club. Such is the Welshman’s abil­i­ty, he has dis­placed Adam Arm­strong from the right wing posi­tion which he had occu­pied for the major­i­ty of the sea­son so that he can play his favoured posi­tion and cut in on his wand of a left foot. This has seen Arm­strong instead play from the left, whilst Che Adams is the man trust­ed to lead the line.

Brooks him­self has pro­vid­ed two goals and three assists since mak­ing the move to St Mary’s and inter­est­ing­ly all of his goal con­tri­bu­tions have come in wins for Southamp­ton.

It remains to be seen who will be Southampton’s hero in the final stages of this sea­son, but any play­er could do worse than to look to Sharp’s fine form in the final ten games of the 2011/12 sea­son as a source of inspi­ra­tion ahead of what is sure to be one of the most intense pro­mo­tion bat­tles in Cham­pi­onship his­to­ry.

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