Surman thinks the unthinkable but intends to keep Saints alive

It is strange to recall now that the manager who accompanied Southampton to the Championship was Harry Redknapp. Think back and you can remember him on that sweltering final day in May 2005, when a 2-1 home defeat by Manchester United confirmed Saints' fate.

Under 'Arry Houdini, even the great survivors, who retained their Premier League status on the last day of the season no fewer than four times in the 1990s, were unable to resist the pull of gravity. Ousted from the Premier League after 27 years in the top division, it would surely only be the briefest of absences.

As Southampton, Leicester, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry – in ascending order – demonstrate as they attempt to disentangle themselves from the barbed wire of relegation in today's Championship dénouement, the game is no respecter of past reputations.

Leicester, who overachieved under Martin O'Neill, were relegated in 2002. There has been a succession of managers, and that's just since the start of last year. Ian Holloway was preceded by Gary Megson, Martin Allen and Rob Kelly.

Wednesday last enjoyed the excesses of the top flight in 2000, and have experienced for two seasons the cold blast of League One reality. They, too, have had six managers since that initial drop. Coventry were relegated in 2001 under Gordon Strachan, and Chris Coleman is the latest of seven managers since then.

Relegation has been followed by a surfeit of managerial changes in all those cases; consistent with a failure of the board or owners to adapt to more austere new circumstances. Even the supposed bounce yielded by the generous parachute payments has not resulted in a reversal of fortunes. Of last year's relegated clubs, Charlton languish in mid-table, Watford have still to confirm their play-off place and Sheffield United will do well to reach a similar position. Even victory at St Mary's today won't ensure it. Which returns us to the Saints, who possibly need a victory, and are dependent on at least one of those above them faring worse than them, right up to Blackpool in 18th place.

In fairness, there has been no significant managerial turnover at St Mary's until George Burley departed because he was offered the Scotland job. John Gorman and Jason Dodd were put in charge before Nigel Pearson took over.

The Saints have never really recovered from the trauma of that 2005 relegation. Redknapp headed back to Fratton Park, a move that was followed by claims from Rupert Lowe, the Saints chairman at the time, that there had been an illegal approach for the manager.

That led to his then opposite number at Portsmouth, Milan Mandaric, at Christmas 2005 posting a dead duck to Lowe, who goes shooting as a pastime.

Lowe is set to return as chairman and Pearson, who was briefly caretaker at Newcastle prior to the arrival of Kevin Keegan, is likely to lose his job regardless of results today.

Victory at West Bromwich on Monday night could have made a big difference to their survival hopes and they came close, with 19-year-old substitute Adam Lallana's late goal. But the Baggies' riposte, Chris Brunt beating former England keeper Richard Wright with the sheer velocity of his shot, to confirm promotion for the home side, has left Saints in real jeopardy.

The South African-born midfielder Drew Surman (pictured left), a season-ticket holder at The Dell with his family as a child, has seen this brinkmanship too often before. "It was disappointing to go down from the Premier League in 2005 and it is unthinkable that it could happen again. It would be devastating," he said.

"I watched all four of our last-day great escapes when I was a kid [in 1994, '96, '97 and '99]. I remember jumping up and down in the stands when the other results came through and we were safe. It is horrible, the situation we are in, and if I was watching from the terraces I would be just as sick as well.

"I never thought this would happen to me as a player but we are all looking forward to this and there is a strong belief we can win. We thought we had a stronger squad this year than last when we missed out in the play-offs but we have massively underachieved."

It is a salutary lesson to all the so-called big clubs who may view relegation as a temporary irritant. And Southampton should be warned because as Nottingham Forest and Leeds have discovered, there may be worse to come.

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