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So much to look forward to
THE New Year promises so much for our leading football clubs.
And it’s not just Saints, who entered 2014 in the Premier League’s top ten, who have a lot to look forward to - on and off the pitch.
The Daily Echo’s top semi-pro club, Eastleigh, have their best chance ever of winning promotion to the top flight of non league football.
This is why there is so much to look forward to ..
SAINTS THE coming weeks provide a perfect opportunity for Saints to present a picture of defiance to the footballing world.
In the past decade, the club’s top players have not always stayed at St Mary’s.
James Beattie, at the time Saints’ most prized asset, used the January transfer window nine years ago to sign for Everton.
Teen sensation Theo Walcott did the same in 2006 to join Arsenal.
This year is no different.
Speculation surrounding left back Luke Shaw has been around for longer than he’s been in the Saints first team.
Growing up as a Chelsea fan, and the fact his family live near the club’s training ground, has led to links with a move to Stamford Bridge since 2011.
Now Shaw is continually being linked with Manchester United.David Moyes is also rumoured to be interested in Saints skipper Adam Lallana.
Lallana, like Shaw, is on a long-term contract so has security of future.
Newly married, it is unthinkable that Lallana would decide to leave Saints, even if the club wanted to sell.
The likes of Walcott, Bale and Chamberlain all left when Saints were outside the Premier League looking in on those feasting on the riches.
Those three had to leave to seek top flight football.
Beattie probably left because he could see the writing was on the wall, with Saints relegated a few months after his departure.Now the landscape has dramatically altered.
Shaw and Lallana have no need to leave to see first team football. They already have it at the club they have been at for years.
They don’t need to quit Saints in order to further their chances of international football.Lallana is now a senior international and Shaw will follow him at some point.
There is no longer any doubt as to whether Shaw will one day play for the senior international side. It is a shoe-in.
Of course, what the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United can offer that Saints cannot has not altered in the last few years.
Those clubs can still offer a better chance of winning trophies, of almost guaranteed European club football every year, and a fatter wage packet.
But money is not everything and no doubt Shaw and Lallana fervently believe Saints can challenge for honours in the coming years.
Hopefully those above them in positions of power at Saints share those views, across all competitions.
Saints wasted a potentially glorious opportunity of reaching Wembley in the League Cup this season by fielding a weakened team at Sunderland.
It would be nice to see Saints take the FA Cup seriously, rather than field a much-changed side as they did in the Capital One competition.
Saints are not yet in a position where they can just write off the two cups they compete in as mere sideshows to the undisputed priority of finishing in the top six in the Premier League.The FA Cup should still matter. A lot.
If taken seriously, and with a bit of luck, it can provide the likes of Shaw and Lallana with their first major medals, (though I don’t doubt Lallana treasures his Johnstone’s Paint Trophy medal as a materialistic momento of a great day out ...) FA VASE Hopes are high as we enter 2014 that one of the three local Wessex League clubs can reach Wembley in the Vase.
Sholing, Alresford and Blackfield & Langley are all through to the last 32 - putting them within four rounds of the national stadium.
All three are aiming to emulate the two Wessex clubs that have previously won the Vase - Wimborne in 1992 and Winchester City in 2004.In addition, AFC Totton reached the final in 2007, losing to Truro in front of over 35,000 fans.
Sholing are the only one of the three local clubs at home in the last 32.
They face Essex Senior Division side Hullbridge Sports on January 18.
Sholing, unbeaten at the top of the Wessex Premier, will start favourites against opponents who are only mid-table in their league.
But Hullbridge caused a shock in the last round when they won 1-0 at a Great Wakering side who were top of the Essex Senior at the time.
Blackfield face the hardest test, away to a Bath-based Larkhall side who have won 19 and drawn one of their 20 Western League Premier Division games in 2013/14.
Alresford travel to Bristol area club Hallen, who are eighth in the Western League Premier.
Sholing welcomed in 2014 as the only unbeaten club in the Wessex top flight.
Dave Diaper’s free-scoring Boatman are aiming to become only the second club in Wessex history to go a top tier campaign undefeated.
Sholing are also in with a chance of beating Andover’s record 153-goal seasonal Wessex League record.
Last weekend’s 12-1 destruction of Downton took their tally to 73 in only 20 games, of which they have won 18 of them.
CONFERENCE SOUTH The New Year brings with it Eastleigh’s best ever chance to win themselves a place in the top tier of non league football.
It is worth reminding ourselves that as recently as 2002/03 the Spitfires were just another Wessex League club.
Three quick promotions under Paul Doswell saw them arrive in Conference South in 2005/06, and have been there ever since.
Twice - in 2008/08 under Ian Baird and again last season under Richard Hill - Eastleigh have been beaten in the play-off semi-finals.
But this time there are encouraging signs that Hill’s men, containing a large amount of ex-Football League regulars, could go up automatically.
Having led the table for most of the season, Eastleigh currently find themselves second, eight points off Bromley with two games in hand.
They are 10 points clear of fifth placed Eastbourne, so the worst case scenario at present appears another shot at promotion via the play-offs.
Eastleigh are also through to the last 16 of the FA Trophy for only the second time ever.
They host divisional rivals Dover, the team that beat them in the play-off semis last term, on January 11 with a place in the quarter finals up for grabs.
With Conference Premier giants Luton and Cambridge playing each other, and other top Premier clubs already out, a route to Wembley could open up for an outsider ...
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