How ironic would it be if The Smiths’ song ‘Unhappy Birthday’ erupts from the loud speakers at St Mary’s this Saturday? Because for Harry Redknapp, Southampton is one of the last places he would wish to celebrate his 66th birthday.
The media darling takes his Queens Park Rangers side to the south coast this weekend for his first visit to the club he walked out on seven-and-a-half years ago to return to “spiritual home” Portsmouth.
Southampton’s relegation from the Premier League under Redknapp is often overlooked from his CV by the press, but the vitriol and anger towards him within St Mary’s will be tangible on Saturday afternoon.
The QPR manager’s personal situation aside, it’s still a daunting trip for the west London side, who are now 1/7 in bwin’s relegation betting market following their 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester United last time out.
The veteran wheeler-dealer has frequently reminded everyone of his “crap Portsmouth side” and their great escape in 2006, but his January signings have so far left a lot to be desired.
While Chris Samba is undoubtedly an excellent defender, he is woefully short of match fitness, while Loic Remy has struggled with a groin injury, Andros Townsend is unproven and Jermaine Jenas struggled to break into Nottingham Forest’s side earlier in the season.
Conversely, Southampton are warming to life under Mauricio Pochettino, despite last weekend’s 4-2 reverse against Newcastle United on Tyneside.
Goals from Moussa Sissoko, Papiss Cisse, Yohan Cabaye and a Jos Hooiveld own goal ensured that strikes from Morgan Schneiderlin and Rickie Lambert were redundant.
Lambert’s second-half equaliser was his 12th league goal of the campaign, but more importantly, his 100th goal for the club in all competitions since his £1 million move from Bristol Rovers in August 2009.
The Scouse powerhouse can be found at 66/1 to finish the season as the division’s top scorer.
Coincidentally, it is also Pochettino’s birthday on Saturday and the Saints are 4/5 odds-on favourites in bwin’s 3way betting market to give the Argentine a birthday win, with the draw priced at 7/5 and a win for the Rs a healthy 7/2.
Much has changed since the two sides met for ‘El Sackico’ on November 17th at Loftus Road, when then-19th-placed Southampton ran out 3-1 victors against the league’s basement side.
Not only have both Mark Hughes and Nigel Adkins departed, but Southampton have managed to pull themselves away from the relegation zone, with only four defeats in the following 15 matches, accruing 19 points in the process.
QPR, for their part, have become more durable since ‘Arry’s appointment despite still propping up the division and they have lost only twice in the six away matches he has presided over.
Rangers do have history on their side, too, as they are unbeaten in their last four visits to St Mary’s, albeit all in the Championship.
The game’s key battles appear obvious – Lambert v Samba, and Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin v Adel Taarabt and Esteban Granero.
Lambert is far more than just a target man and besides his dozen goals, he is also one of the most creative players in the league, creating a chance for his side every 38 minutes, and his cunning will test Samba’s fitness to the maximum.
Taarabt and Granero are mercurial talents, capable of moments of magic, but Cork and Schneiderlin are fast becoming one of the most underrated midfield partnerships in the top flight and their aggressive pressing and ability to turn over possession quickly will make for an interesting match.
Southampton are favourites, and rightly so, but it may not be as comfortable for them as their visit to Loftus Road earlier in the season.
A 2-0 home win at odds of 15/2 looks a sensible punt, but the multiple correct score market may be the safest bet with 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 Southampton available at 23/10.
Punters registering with bwin can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on the Saints to triumph by one of these three scorelines would return £66 if successful.
And if Messrs Lambert, Cork and Schneiderlin win their personal duels, then Morrissey’s baritone voice may be heard at full-time after all.