Saints back in the big time

Southampton fans
The journey back to the Premiership is complete Photo: PA wire

Southampton are celebrating promotion back to the Premier League after a seven-year absence dominated by adversity and, at times, tragedy.

Nigel Adkins' Saints marched back to the top flight with a 4-0 victory at home to Coventry this afternoon that saw them finish as npower Championship runners-up after a spell in the Football League that has seen more troughs than peaks.

Few fans or pundits could have predicted the travails that followed the end of Saints' 27-year spell in the top flight on the final day of the 2004/05 season.

Harry Redknapp returned to bitter rivals Portsmouth within months of relegation, Sir Clive Woodward was calling the shots as performance director and the squad was decimated.

Saints enjoyed a brief dalliance with promotion back in 2007 when only penalties against Derby prevented them reaching the play-off final at Wembley, although a sudden downfall soon followed.

Big names like Kenwyne Jones and Gareth Bale departed and, having seen their Premier League parachute payments dry up, they endured a sharp descent.

Having beaten the drop to League One on the final day of the 2007/08 season, nothing could prevent Southampton's relegation to the third tier the following year.

The south coast side struggled with a core of youngsters and questionable senior pros under the tutorship of Dutch duo Jan Poortvliet and Mark Wotte.

Things off the park, though, were far worse.

Just six years after reaching the FA Cup final, the club were on the brink financially and looked like it could become the biggest name in English football to go out of business.

Step forward, Markus Liebherr.

Few - if any - had heard of the German-born Swiss businessman when he pulled the club away from the precipice, but he is now a legend at St Mary's.

Liebherr put the club back on a sound financial footing, invested in the playing squad and announced a five-year plan to return the Saints to the Premier League.

A 10-point deduction for entering administration curtailed their play-off dreams in their first season, although they did win the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and then secured automatic promotion the following year.

Liebherr, though, was not there to see it. The Saints owner passed away aged just 62 in August 2010.

Following his death, a statement on the club website said "he would have wanted to be there when the Saints get promotion to the Premier League" but that his dream would continue under executive chairman Nicola Cortese.

True to those words - and ahead of schedule - Southampton have overcome the odds to follow in Norwich's footsteps by securing back-to-back promotions.

With the striking prowess of Championship top scorer Rickie Lambert, the skill of academy graduate Adam Lallana and a solid base, Adkins' side have taken the Championship by storm.

Saints spent almost the whole season in the top two and, despite a couple of blips, have achieved promotion to the top tier at the first attempt.

Few would have believed that when the club was at its lowest ebb three years ago, but fortunes are a changing at the south coast club.