Watson may doctor Port plans
The Sandgrounders surprised everyone last season, eventually finishing seventh but they may be in for a tougher examination in 2012/13…
On April 30 2011 Southport slumped to a miserable 3-1 defeat at Kettering, conceding twice in the final three minutes. It was a result which condemned Liam Watson’s underachievers to relegation from the Blue Square Bet Premier after a campaign of mystifying inconsistency.
After beginning their preparations for life in the north division the Sandgrounders were handed a reprieve as mid-table Rushden spiralled into financial ruin. Watson’s men grasped the second chance with the sort of relish Euro 2012 cameramen reserve for a bikini, blonde hair and face paint.
It is difficult to comprehend exactly what prompted such a turnaround. After accruing 46 points and 11 wins in 2010/11 the Merseysiders managed 76 and 21 a year later, finishing just five points shy of the play-off places. At every turn they were expected to slip off the pace but the slump never arrived. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of their rise was that so little had appeared to have changed in the summer of 2011. The manager did not dispense with the players who had failed to deliver so stunningly during the run-in, only gently tailoring the squad.
Did Watson realise the error of his ways? Did the players rediscover their belief? Throughout, the Sandgrounders have doubtlessly been helped by the stability in the boardroom. Chairman Charlie Clapham is one of the most enduring faces at this level, an ever-present behind the scenes at Haig Avenue. And his continued backing of Watson seems to have paid off.
The boss was linked with the Preston job in January and with the vacant post at Macclesfield this summer but has reinforced his commitment to the Port. We’re still not entirely sure how the change in fortunes was masterminded but fancy the dismal 2010/11 campaign proved to be an invaluable learning experience for the manager. If he can use last season’s success in a similar fashion, he may just be able to have his club punching above their weight again.
In two spells in charge at Haig Avenue Watson has rarely been through the mill, guiding the club to two Blue Square Bet North titles and survival in non-league’s top tier in 2005. But the 2010/11 season saw his reputation take a hit. On paper, a part-time club battling for survival is hardly surprising, but it was the manner of the spring slump which rankled: a 4-1 humbling at soon-to-be-relegated Eastbourne, a 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Crawley, shipping six at Luton.
However, the events of last season have seen him firmly wrestle back control. But the guiding hand of Clapham is of significant importance too. Watson has never been left in limbo; he has never been short of support and this relationship is central to the club’s future success.
How do you follow a season of such unprecedented achievement? It is a welcome concern for Sandgrounders fans although it will give Watson plenty to consider. There were signs during the early part of 2012 that opponents might just have begun to work out the Port and it may be that they are forced to adjust their forward-and-fast approach to combat opponents’ plans.
However, for the time being supporters are happy to bathe in the positivity of last term. The bulk of the squad remains, although they missed out on Godrey Poku, a loanee last season, who moved to Macclesfield while defender Andy Owens has joined Mansfield. The expectations at Haig Avenue may be simply for more progress, rather than a top-five tilt but if the Sandgrounders can begin with a bang again, ambition may begin to take hold once more.
Having succeeded as a part-time outfit and struggled previously with the step up to full-time, the transition to professional club may not be on the agenda just yet, in part due to Watson’s commitments to his other day job. But with a supportive boardroom, improving manager and reasonable fanbase, Southport can justifiably look to the future with a certain degree of confidence.
However, as the departure of Owens - and the likes of Carl Baker before him - demonstrated, the Port are powerless to shoo away full-time vultures. A season of success only encourages those higher up the food chain to pounce.
If the Sandgrounders can build on last season’s progress with a quick start they have the sheer bloody-mindedness to secure a top-half finish again. But we fancy that a play-off tilt may be out of their reach.
For more on the Blue Square Bet Premier, read our profiles of the other 23 sides during the coming days: Alfreton, Barrow, Braintree, Cambridge, Dartford, Ebbsfleet, Forest Green, Gateshead, Grimsby, Hereford, Hyde, Kidderminster, Lincoln, Luton, Macclesfield, Mansfield, Newport, Nuneaton, Stockport, Tamworth, Telford, Woking, Wrexham
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