Hammers & Saints showcase Football League's finest

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West Ham United travel to Southampton tonight in a clash of the Npower Championship's top two sides.

The Hammers have enjoyed a resurgence in the second tier after losing their opening fixture against Cardiff City, and moved up to second in the table with a convincing 4-0 victory over Blackpool on Saturday.

Nigel Adkins' side, promoted from Npower League One as runners-up to Brighton last season, have been going about their business efficiently to rise quickly to the top of the table at the start of the season.

Their home form is exemplary, winning every game at St. Mary's so far this season, stretching to a run of 14 consecutive wins from the back-end of last term.

Both sides have Barclays Premier League tradition, meeting in the top flight eight years ago before Southampton's slide out of the division. Their stadium and support shows they still have credentials to play at that level though.

The Hammers, with a big-budget squad and new stadium around the corner, are expecting more than hoping to be in the division above come May.


And yet, under apparently wanted change from owners in the Barclays Premier League, such a fixture would have no relevance to the race for promotion in years to come.

No fixture would have such relevance, with League Managers Association chief Richard Bevan claiming foreign-owned clubs are keen to scrap the current system in favour of franchises.

"We're very keen that the report is successful in helping the Football Association introduce a licensing programme for clubs," said Bevan.

"Because there are a number of overseas-owned clubs already talking about bringing about the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Premier League.

"If we have four or five more new owners, that could happen."

The system is successful in America, although has had a mixed result in Rugby League, with a handful of clubs struggling financially at the lower end of Super League.

Opposition in football would be strong, with Sir Alex Ferguson voicing his concern immediately and Wigan chairman Dave Whelan angrily rejecting such a proposal.

In Ferguson's defence of the current system, he highlighted the caliber of clubs outside the top flight, all fighting to take advantage of the multi-million pound Premier League dream.

For Southampton, a club who this season would have realistically been targeting mid-table (at best the play-offs), trips to Old Trafford and Anfield suddenly seem like a realistic ambition.

Should that chance be taken away, then the Football League would be so severely devalued that its commercial value, as well as attendances in all three divisions, would be in serious decline. The obvious knock-on impact - clubs going out of business.

The best way to prove the Football League's value is to showcase the best teams as often as possible, and whilst tonight's clash falls into second behind the Champions League, both teams are on TV over the weekend in separate matches.

An opportunity to watch these two sides is one which shouldn't be missed, although it remains to be seen who will be sitting at the top of the table come 9:40pm tonight.

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