A strong end to a difficult season must give Lion’s fans reason for an optimistic summer. There seems to be a magical word in the Championship and it begins with ‘M’. When teams have it they are feared, without it they can stumble. Southampton had it and then Reading found it. Momentum!
As the season came to a close it appeared we had finally found it, the form team in April, all of sudden we were sweeping aside all opposition with a new found swagger and exuberance.
A surprisingly smooth finish to a turbulent campaign, seven games unbeaten, culminating in The Lions finishing above our South London rivals Crystal Palace seems to have masked a season spent flirting with relegation. Our Achilles heel was no doubt what had, over the last few seasons, been such a key ingredient to our success.
The Den was no longer a fortress. Especially at the turn of the year, it seemed as if teams were arriving with a smile on their faces, relaxed and licking their lips at the prospect of playing in front of the Lions’ faithful. The opposite could be said of the hosts.
When a team isn’t winning at home, momentum is suddenly a foreign word. Strong home form is vital for any successful side in this division; it releases pressure and provides a platform for confident away performances.
Occasional convincing away wins, at Oakwell and Turf Moor, kept the murmurings of discontent from becoming anything more. But with any poor form questions around the suitability of the manager seem inevitable.
Kenny Jackett is the longest serving manager in the division. He has provided stability following a difficult period, where we saw a frequent change in management and personnel coinciding with the club falling into League One and struggling; League Two suddenly became a scary possibility.
But this year saw his biggest challenge since his first season, turning around the fortunes of a losing side, this time a side which he was responsible for. January signings of Shane Lowry and Andy Keogh have not only turned out to be very astute acquisitions, but also shown that Jackett has the backing of Chairman John G Berylson. A partnership which will certainly be crucial to any progress the club makes over the coming seasons.
Jackett has come through a turbulent spell with his reputation in enhanced. Whether promotion-chasing or survival-seeking, Jackett has shown he is the best man for the job.
Off the back of our tremendous end of season run-in, we have cause for optimism as we look forward to next year. Keogh will be crucial and if Jackett can get young Harry Kane again for another year, then the partnership that has already yielded 13 championship goals in such a short period, will undoubtedly shine again.
We have also spent the season without our previous player of the year, Tamika Mkandawire, who in our first season back in the Championship was perhaps the main reason for us holding the third best defensive record in the league behind promoted QPR and Swansea.
With these positives at either end of the pitch and a Chairman willing to back his Manager financially, we must be itching for August to come around already. We can learn from the experiences of this season, take the momentum we seem to have generated, thus making The Den a fortress again and becoming a feared side in this division.
It can be a funny old division, with pre season favourites such as Nottingham Forest, Leicester and Middlesbrough all underachieving. Southampton got off to a strong start and held on as the season drew to a close, Reading came from nowhere at the turn of the year and powered to promotion.
Perhaps if April hadn’t have shown as many positives we wouldn’t have reason to be so optimistic but continue our form into the start of next season and you just never know. In the Npower Championship, momentum can take you a long way.