Southampton live rent-free in Bournemouth heads, and relegation is only going to make it worse


Confirmation came moments after the final whistle. It was such a small, subtle gesture, so relatively unremarkable, most of you watching on may have already removed from memory.

When you think back to any particular football game, there are always little trivial takeaways the mind remembers. It might not always be a goal or an incident of controversy, nor the feeling of despair or ecstasy at the end.

It is usually the innocuous moments that stay with you. That moment came seconds after Craig Pawson blew his whistle for the final time on Sunday afternoon.

Southampton had just beaten Bournemouth 2-0. It was a scrappy, ping-pong style sort of football match, interspersed with brief interludes of divine skill and heavenly fortune. After being on the right end of Lady Luck last time out at the Vitality, Bournemouth were now facing the gut-wrenching prospect of relegation out of the Premier League.

The game’s man of the match, albeit on the losing team, Aaron Ramsdale, sat unmoved on the edge of his six-yard box. Just minutes before he had been celebrating what he thought was the equaliser, spinning around in triumph, with his outstretched arms aloft. He thought Sam Surridge’s tap-in at the other end had nicked a point for his team.

Yet here we were. Surridge’s goal was cancelled out due to the offside Callum Wilson infringing play. He then had to pick the ball out of his net for the second occasion after Che Adams scored in the 98th minute to kill off any chance of a revival.

The constant false peaks experienced had zapped any sort of vigour remaining in Ramsdale. The wreckage that VAR had left in its wake had reduced him to his haunches; head bowed, hands on his knees. That was until the hand of Angus Gunn and some words of Irish wisdom from Shane Long. Both had made their way from the stands onto the pitch to offer aid to Ramsdale.

To the naked eye, you may think it’s just plain good-old sportsmanship. But for some, the touch of a sympathetic Southampton hand which supported and raised a Bournemouth player back to his feet, was extraordinarily poignant.

It was befitting way to end the tussle for south coast dominance. The touch of Angus Gunn’s hand all but underlined the unmitigated grip Southampton had on the coastline. And while Bournemouth in recent years have attempted to portray the illusion of a rivalry, from a Saints perspective, there would be no such thing.

Supporters of Southampton feel there has been a disservice and disrespect from Bournemouth. Since their promotion to the Premier League, there has been an ever-growing resentment and animosity single-handedly contrived by the Dorset-club.

It often acts as a sense of bemusement for Saints fans. Why would a club that had never displayed any remnant of bad blood towards you begin now? This is the same club that were saved due to the help of Southampton supporters raising funds to stave off the threat of liquidation in 2008.

12 years ago, Bournemouth were served with a winding up order and had to quickly find money to save themselves. So in order to help a club that was close to home, sections of the St Mary’s faithful donated. Hardly a common thing for a fanbase to do if a rivalry exists.

But then Eddie Howe happened and Bournemouth’s fairy-tale into the Premier League meant regular meetings with the Saints. The short trip along the A31 coupled in with the fact that they would be set to meet on at least two occasions each season, were all supposed to be conducive in generating a rivalry.

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But half a decade and 10 “derbies” later, the sample size to evaluate how fractious the hostility between the pair is should be sufficient. But depending on what fanbase you ask, your findings may differ.

Before this season, Bournemouth had finished higher than Saints in successive campaigns. This all but meant Bournemouth had become the undisputed the number one ‘performing’ team on the south coast.

But their victory at St Mary’s last September – the first in their history – was finally the result they had long been yearning for. Here was concrete, unequivocal proof that the club who had always been in Southampton shadows were now top dog and their 3-1 win set the precedent to show it.

The manner in which the usually introverted and reserved Howe celebrated in front of the away support told you everything you needed to know. Winning at St Mary’s was their cup final. Not since they got promoted did scenes resemble anything near it.

This of course, brought the caveat from Southampton fans reaffirming their belief of how irrelevant Bournemouth are, despite victory. After all, who celebrates like that, that much, when the season was just six games in?

In truth, Bournemouth had hoped beating Southampton, in Southampton, would spark a crescendo in their quarrel – the little club from a sunny, arbitrary seaside town had come and taken the reigns of being the presiding team on the south coast. And that surely meant Saints would hate them now and treat them with similar disdain as they do Portsmouth.

Even on Sunday, you got the feeling that the contest takes emotionally more out of Bournemouth than it does Southampton. After the final whistle, Howe called the defeat an “emotional game” and suggested it “deeply hurt”, whilst sitting more slumped in his press conference chair than ever before.

Heck, even Ramsdale’s outlandish celebrations after Surridge’s false equaliser seemed way over the top. He was celebrating like a 1999 Peter Schmeichel. The difference being Schmeichel had just won the Champions League, while Ramsdale was just about to draw a game.

Admittedly, Sunday’s game did possess the hallmarks of a rivalry. It was an all-out 90 minute slugfest, with both team’s incessant in their pressing and rushing of the other. There was no sustained possession or periods of dominance. Instead, it was a game reliant on counter attacks and quick transitions to provide the openings.

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The game panned out the way it did due to the stylistic clash of the two teams, rather than any lingering hatred.  The first yellow card didn’t appear until the 34th minute, and that was through a clumsy Jannik Vestergaard challenge, done with hardly any pretence of malice in it.

The tight, intense affair had more to do with the entrenched situation Bournemouth find themselves in, increased with the naturally high-octane brand of football Southampton play. This meant the clash in styles would always gel into an aggressive wrestle for supremacy.

There is no shying away from the fact that Southampton were fortunate to take all three points. Who knows, on another day Bournemouth may have taken one of their chances or Callum Wilson’s right leg wouldn’t have been offside.

But yesterday showed the chasm in the superiority and size of the two clubs. All you would have to do is watch the second-half, where Howe’s staunch principles of passing through the thirds and patient build-up play were thrown out of the window along with the rulebook as they scratched around to try and draw level.

They lumped the ball forward time and time again, banking on second balls or hoping somehow winning an aerial duel against the 6ft 7in Vestergaard, would spark a chance. It was meat and veg stuff. No enterprise, no trickery, just tactics that stunk of desperation.

They were ceaseless with their fixation on long throws into the box, that weren’t actually very long. They would continue to aimlessly launch balls near to Alex McCarthy – 12 corners came to nothing – and play with effectively six strikers in the end.

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If you were Jefferson Lerma yesterday or anyone else playing in midfield for that matter, your neck must have been aching from just looking up and seeing the ball being smashed over your head, time and time again.

Meanwhile, while this self-destructive anarchy was proceeding for the home side, Ralph Hasenhuttl and his men never deviated away from their plan. They would still utilise their pressing propensity when they could and never – and I mean never – shy away from their 4-2-2-2 system, even when under siege and aerial bombardment.

Bournemouth cracked first and panicked. A sure sign of inferiority. They had given it their all, but luck and certainly quality wasn’t there. There was numbness at full-time; a feeling that this may well have been the last Premier League match played at the Vitality for a very long time, and perhaps the final contest against Southampton, too.

You just have to watch Ralph Hasenhuttl’s 40-minute press conference on Friday to understand how journalists and the league in general, view Bournemouth. They were described as a “small club” by one journalist, and Hasenhuttl was in agreement. The Austrian praised Howe for keeping a club, the size of Bournemouth, in the Premier League for five years, even if their stay was soon coming to an end.

It felt like a sympathetic, perhaps condescending, pat on the back. It wasn’t a tirade of pent-up frustration of a team that were viewed upon as fierce rivals.

There is no disguising the crux that Southampton see Bournemouth as some sort of southernly brother. A little annoying one, whose irritated at their ranking within the family and thus attempt to infiltrate a higher position on the dinner table.

But being the much older of the siblings, perhaps the wiser and cooler too, Southampton will always be the favourite. Yes, Saints may occasionally huff at their little brother’s antics but in the end, they ultimately decide its not worth the bother. The younger sibling’s efforts in baiting the elder into a fight turns out to be a rather lame tete-a-tete.
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Southampton’s closest enemy has always been Portsmouth and that will never change. It’s arguably the most twisted, bitter feud across the entirety of the English game.

That, of course, leaves Bournemouth without a direct arch enemy. Games with Brighton can be sometimes feisty, but then again, Brighton’s devoted foe is Crystal Palace.

Back in the day, when crowds were actually allowed at football games, you could grasp the distinction in bitterness between Southampton and Bournemouth. This is best exemplified at half-time, when the latest scores across the league are read out.

Like a dog waiting for it’s owner’s call, Cherries’ supporters prick up their ears and pique their interest at the Saints result. If Southampton were losing, then you could be sure to hear the word “scummer” used. The term itself is used as derogatory name for a Southampton supporter. In fact, it is a term nicked from Portsmouth fans.

In recent times, Bournemouth have stolen the insult and feigned it as if it were their own, as if they were some sort of jilted, ex-lover that wanted to be noticed.

Sunday’s game was able to effortlessly shadow the situation on the south coast. No matter how hard they try, Bournemouth cannot seem to shake off the innate feeling of inferiority to Southampton.

Yes, they may have their brief moments in the sun, which they should dine out on, but continuity wise, they simply are a smaller club, which is unable compete with Southampton for long enough to surpass them. In reality, they are forced to constantly swim against the tide.

They might be successful in doing so, when the seas are calm and the tide is out. But when that tidal wave returns – eg; the arrival of Ralph Hasenhuttl –  the sea’s power becomes prolonged and charged with energy, and that’s when they inevitably sink under.

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No matter how hard they try to contrive a rivalry or to puff their chest out and try to go toe-to-toe with Saints, Southampton’s eyes will always be on Portsmouth and Portsmouth’s eyes will always be on Southampton.

Saints look set to embark on a new era under Ralph Hasenhuttl, after seasons of drifting. Their win on the weekend was a new club record, the most points accumulated away from home in a Premier League season (31).

It all but means Bournemouth will be consigned to looking up with envy as the gulf in class looks set to get wider in the coming seasons.

For five years in the Premier League, they did all they could to stoke a fire with the club only 33 miles away. But in the end, they failed, and were unable to altogether seize the southern coastline.

With the curtain about to fall, Bournemouth will go back to being stuck in the corner. They return with bruises for their troubles and regrets for their actions. But the thing that will hurt the most is they will have to watch on, and be still without a dancing partner.

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About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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