Turbulent week highlights the current South-South divide

In a week where the up and coming forces of Southern football are looking forward to ‘glamorous’ FA Cup ties against Premier League opposition, another of the South’s footballing forces, Portsmouth, have sadly gone into administration for the second time in just three years.

The ambition and excitement surrounding Sussex clubs Brighton and Hove Albion and Crawley Town could hardly be further from the doom and gloom descending on Fratton Park once again, as Pompey’s slump from Premier League status and two FA Cup final appearances into the depths and misery of financial strife continues to gain momentum.

After weeks of failure to pay their players and major press speculation, the writing was sadly on the wall for Portsmouth and their fans as they knew they would have to suffer the indignity of going into administrative control again. Things have reportedly got so bad that they haven’t been able to access their frozen accounts and as such haven’t been able to release the funds necessary to get a scan on captain Liam Lawrence’s calf injury.

Of course, this move into the administrative control of Trevor Birch does bring with it some hope of a silver lining to the very ominous clouds gathering overhead at Fratton Park. The moves that will be made by Birch will be targeted at clearing up the financial ruins at the club and will seek to make the club a sustainable force when moving forward from this incredibly precarious situation. Such improvements will make the endangered club a far more attractive investment prospect and if the administrators can engineer a successful sale of the club to a ‘fit and proper’ buyer then they will at least in the short term have brought the club back to it’s feet.

Hopefully for the sake of Southern football and British football as a whole, Portsmouth will bounce back from this latest huge slump but even with their now increased chances of finding a new buyer the club is set for an enormous challenge. The 10 point penalty hanging over their heads as a punishment for going into administration will bring them right down into the very heart of the Championship relegation battle and it will take one hell of a comeback to avoid the drop.

Not only will this period of administrative control lead to the loss of playing and coaching staff due to the inability to pay their wages but relegation too would have a major effect on the levels of quality and depth in their squad, as their strongest players will almost certainly seek the opportunity to jump-ship. The club will effectively be in survival mode for a period of time and will, for the foreseeable future, be something of a sitting duck as rival clubs will have license to raid the club of their best and most promising players without little resistance.

This position of enormous vulnerability is in stark contrast to that of Brighton and Crawley who are not only performing strongly in their respective leagues but are also about to enjoy the privileges of having enjoyed major scalps in the early rounds of the FA Cup.

League Two promotion hopefuls Crawley have already weighed in with a victory over Championship side Hull and will be looking to take advantage of a potential European night hangover when they host Premier League and Europa League outfit Stoke City this Sunday. Brighton are also in action in this weekend’s FA Cup 5th Round when they face up to a real ‘glamour’ tie against Liverpool at Anfield after having felled an in-form Newcastle in the 4th Round.

The exciting progression of these two Southern clubs doesn’t provide the only potential success stories south of the capital this season though, as AFC Bournemouth are flirting with the League One play-off places and Southampton are currently occupying one of the two automatic promotion places in the Championship.

Sadly though, the significant strides being made by several of Southern football’s resurgent forces and ‘new kids on the block’ are being put in the shade by Portsmouth’s high profile troubles. The South-South divide is developing at an alarming rate and it is fair to say that the Crawley and Brighton’s fans will be far more buoyant than Pompey’s even if they were both walloped 10-nothing this Sunday.

 

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Southern Football Back On The Map

For many a year now the football league has been dominated by London based and Northern based clubs but finally Southern football seems to be returning to prominence. In the not too distant past the likes of Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton were going head-to-head in the Premier League whilst Brighton and Hove Albion were plying their trade in the Championship. This brief era of hope was sadly followed by a major decline in the region and in the space of just a few years each of the aforementioned sides had slipped down at least one division.

At last though it does appear that the region’s football clubs are on to something rather good. At the forefront of this resurgence are Southampton, Brighton and Crawley Town. Each of these clubs have gone from strength to strength in recent times and have each been climbing up the football league hierarchy.

Southampton experienced a torrid time following their Premier League exit in 2005 and in fact came very close to becoming involved in a second successive relegation battle. Luckily at the time a late season surge of form and results saved them from the threat of dropping even further down the football league, but sadly for them this luck wasn’t to continue for too long. In 2009 Southampton’s slump years got even worse when they had to go into administration. With this change in club status came the punishment of a 10 point deduction which sadly ensured another relegation for the club. Even in spite of the club’s continuing failure to meet expectations they were labelled as favourites to lift the League One title. True to form though the Saints once again flattered to deceive and missed out on a return to the Championship.

Adkins has been guided Southampton through a successful past year or so

Finally after five successive years of disappointment Southampton have made a turn in the right direction. Last year saw manager Nigel Adkins inspire his side to a second placed finish and automatic promotion back to the Championship. Upon their return the club’s good fortune has continued and they currently sit pretty in second place after five games. In addition to their good league form they have so far also had great success in their only Cup matches of the season. Their opening round match in the Carling Cup saw them thrash Torquay by four goals to one before a second round victory over fellow Southerners Swindon by three goals to one helped add to the feel good factor around St.Mary’s at present.

The only team to better the Saints in last year’s League One table were Brighton, and they too are enjoying a fantastic start to life back in the Championship. They have also endured a tough last few years including a few non-event seasons of League One football where they found themselves locked in either mid-table mediocrity or battling just to avoid relegation. Gladly though these years appear to be behind them and they are currently staking a very good claim to being the happiest club in World football.

The past year has been nothing other than sheer delight for the Seagulls and their fans as manager Gus Poyet has managed to mastermind a perfectly timed promotion back to the Championship, which has been marked by the long awaited unveiling of their new stadium.

Brighton's glorious new ground

The trials and tribulations of Brighton’s stadium dream have seemed to last an eternity, but finally they have their new ground, The Amex Stadium, and the start of this season has suitably reflected the excitement surrounding the club at the moment. Five games into the league they are yet to have lost a game and are flying high at the top of the Championship. They have also advanced to the third round of the Carling Cup with a thrilling victory after extra time at home to a near full-strength Sunderland. The packed ground raised the roof after record signing Craig Makail-Smith’s winner and their Premier League conquest has furthered the Seagull’s ever-growing ambitions for the rest of the season.

As if the feel-good factor wasn’t already booming at the Amex, Poyet this week tied up a deal to bring Spanish international Vicente to the club on a free transfer. Though his career has been blighted with injury, he was once regarded as one of the finest up and coming talents in World football and it is understood that Brighton fended of Premier League and La Liga interest to land their latest recruit. If he manages to keep fit then they may well have signed a seriously good player capable of impressing not just at Championship level but at Premier League level also. It is an astonishing statement of intent from the Seagulls to have signed a player of such a high calibre.

Could Vicente inspire Brighton to the Premier League?

Sussex is a county that has had very little to celebrate on the football pitch in recent times and Brighton’s resurgence has left many reeling, but it isn’t only Brighton that are drawing attention to the area.

Crawley Town have also been beginning to cause a stir in the football league and they are becoming notorious for their recent influx if finances into the club. Having been taken over, the club then went on to enjoy great success last season resulting in a famous FA Cup run that saw them travel to Old Trafford as well as storming to the Conference title. A combination of recent success and their considerable financial backing has seen them touted as favourites to win League Two this season and if they are to achieve this feat then who’s to say that they can’t go on and make it three promotions in a row next year?

Crawley's big day out Vs. United last season

All in all, things are beginning to really look good again for Southern football’s big hitters. There is an awfully long way to go still this season but the likes of Southampton, Brighton and Crawley have all made hugely encouraging starts upon their arrival into their respective divisions. Speculation of greater things to come is rife around the stands at a lot of Southern football grounds at present and it would be fantastic to see such expectations being met. If clubs such as Portsmouth, Reading, Bournemouth, Swindon and Plymouth can turn their form and off-field strife around then this era of positivity could gain even greater potential.