Monday 28 April ~
Last season West Brom and Southampton both lost to Derby in the Championship play-offs. Next season Derby will be back at the second level, having only won one League match since their Wembley victory over West Brom. But they may not be playing either of the other two. If West Brom get a point at home to Southampton tonight they will be promoted. The Saints, meanwhile, are third from bottom and favourites for the final relegation spot which they are contesting with Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday.
Matt Le Tissier, arguably Southampton's greatest ever player, was watching the Wigan v Reading game for Sky's Soccer Saturday but his mind as clearly elsewhere and not just because the game was a tedious 0-0. The cameras kept monitoring his reaction when one of the latest scores in the Championship affected his club and he finished the day with head in hands as Hull's late winner against Palace meant that West Brom still need something from tonight's match.
Nigel Pearson he has won only two matches out of 12 since taking charge of Southampton in February, having spent the previous few weeks slumped forlornly on the end of the Newcastle bench after the return of Kevin Keegan. Pearson has insisted that a protracted boardroom battle has not had an unsettling effect but it has surely contributed to the prevailing mood of gloom. Controversial former chairman Rupert Lowe now seems set to resume control two days after the end of the season which will not improve the mood of many home fans who may have just seen the team relegated in their last match against Sheffield Utd.
No such worries for West Brom. Tony Mowbray's side fell just short last season and defensive frailties have occasionally looked like scuppering their promotion push in recent months. But by common consent they are the best footballing side in the division, with a passing style that is in sharp contrast to the muscular approach of the other promotion contenders. Manager Mowbray is insistent that his side can prevail by “playing a brand of football like Barcelona”. Such lofty ambitions seem likely to pay off tonight. West Brom supporters who had to watch teams managed by Bryan Robson and Gary Megson will feel that they have been duly rewarded.