League call can help city cause

Norwich's Championship survival fight could get a major boost today with the fate of crisis club Southampton high on the agenda at the latest Football League board meeting.

Norwich's Championship survival fight could get a major boost today with the fate of crisis club Southampton high on the agenda at the latest Football League board meeting.

City chief executive Neil Doncaster will be among the powerbrokers poised to discuss whether the south coast strugglers should face a potential points penalty after its parent company went into administration last week.

Bryan Gunn's side currently lie three points and two places above the Saints ahead of Southampton's latest Championship game at Watford tonight.

A ten point deduction would leave Southampton rock bottom and 14 points from safety ahead of the trip to Vicarage Road.

The Football League had imposed tighter rules this season for clubs who enter administration - leaving the timing of the ten-point deduction at their discretion following a final March deadline.

However, Southampton officials are expected to argue their holding company is a separate entity after exploiting a similar loophole to Championship rivals Derby in 2003 when Saints Leisure Holdings PLC was wound up last week with reported debts of �27.5m.Derby County Ltd was put into receivership by the Co-operative Bank with debts of �35m following relegation from the Premiership but the Pride Park club escaped a points hit.

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Norwich's Championship relegation rivals have widely criticised the decision not to impose an automatic ten point deduction that would effectively push Southampton to the brink of League One alongside Charlton.

City declined to comment last night ahead of the monthly Football League meeting but Plymouth chief and former Saints' boss Paul Sturrock insists the issue is black and white.

“It just shows you what is happening in football in this day and age,” he said. “The credit crunch has definitely kicked in, big-time, and I think we will start seeing a lot more clubs going to the wall. I don't want to see that happen to any club, especially to Southampton, because there are nice people there.

“But, at the end of the day, its dog eat dog in this world. When clubs have attempted to take advantage of technicalities, the league has always changed the rules. I hope it would be no different this time, and that due penalties would apply this season.” Fellow strugglers Barnsley have accused Southampton of failing to act in the spirit of the game.

“When clubs in any division start a season, they hope to retain their status by their performance on the field,” said Tykes' director Don Rowing. “However, there are regulations that we all have to adhere to and Southampton were aware, as all other clubs are, that should they go into administration, they would face a points deduction. The fact that they have not done is because they have found a loophole which gives them an advantage over their competitors in the Championship and goes against the spirit of the competition.

“I do also think it's wrong that a parent company can be set up to run a football club and do what they want to do, and push into administration as it suits them, through bad management. And we are talking about bad management. A lot of clubs have suffered from that because in football we often don't live in the real world. But they do have a responsibility to shareholders and the company, to the Football League and to other clubs, to run it in a proper manner.”

Wembley winners Luton Town were docked a total of 30 points at the start of the season for breaching league rules. Hatters' managing director Gary Sweet insists the Football League must act decisively in this latest case.

“This makes a mockery of the Football League's attempt to uphold the integrity of the competition,” he said. “If this sails through I see no reason why any football club should not set up a holding company that carries the entire debt of the club which is periodically put into administration in order to cleanse debt while attracting no sanctions.”

Mark Fry, the administrator appointed to oversee Southampton's sale, last night allayed fears the Saints could fold after confirming they have had an initial 15 to 20 inquiries to buy the south coast outfit.

“Hopefully there are some serious people who are interested in buying the club,” he said. “What happens when someone calls up is that we ask them to prove that they are in a financial position to be able to complete a transaction of this size and they will then have to supply us with that information and proof of funding.

“We would then release information to those people and they will then come to meetings with us and explore ways in which the transaction might be completed. We would hope to start conducting those meetings during the latter part of this week and the start of next.”