LONDON - Tuesday night's relegation battle between Swansea and Southampton in South Wales has become mired in controversy and intrigue after the visitors had their hotel reservation near the Liberty Stadium cancelled at the last minute.
Mark Hughes and his Southampton players believe they may be victims of dirty tricks after they were suddenly told on Sunday that the 40 rooms they had booked at the Swansea Marriott were no longer available.
This means the Saints had to stay at the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel near Cardiff last night — at least an hour’s rush-hour drive away from the stadium.
With Southampton and Swansea locked together on 33 Premier League points going into the game, the winner will take a huge step towards safety before the season’s final round of games on Sunday.
But the Saints believe their plans have been sabotaged after a "phone call made out of the blue" to the assistant of club secretary Ros Wheeler on Sunday lunchtime.
Southampton were told that the Marriott - the only hotel in Swansea equipped to host a Premier League football team - had been struck by a "virus" and would not be able to honour the booking that was made last month.
Southampton staff asked if they could visit the hotel themselves to check if the premises were indeed unfit for purpose but were told that would not be possible. On subsequently discovering that the hotel was still taking bookings from members of the public, Saints officials called back only to be told that there would be no change of stance.
A Southampton source said on Monday night: "As far as we are concerned, there is no proof that there is a problem with the hotel. It is open and taking bookings.
"This has caused Mark Hughes and the team a huge inconvenience and we can only think that someone somewhere wants to make life as difficult as possible for us ahead of this game.
"We would have happily sent our own staff to the hotel to see if everything was OK but we were told this is not possible. We have had no option but to book the team into the nearest suitable hotel, which is 35 miles away down the M4.
"Mark Hughes is furious about this. It’s a huge game with everything hinging on it. The least Mark and the players deserve is a level playing field."
Hughes and his players will have to leave the Vale of Glamorgan - coincidentally used as a training base by Swansea’s Welsh rivals Cardiff City - at 4.45pm in order to make sure they reach the stadium in plenty of time for kick-off. Normally, players would not have to leave their rooms in Swansea until 6.15pm.
Calls to the hotel by the Daily Mail on Monday confirmed that it is open and that rooms are still available.
When asked for an explanation for the cancellation - which had nothing to do with Swansea City - the Marriott at first said "no comment" and then passed enquires on to general manager Michael Downie.
Last night Downie said: "As a matter of guest privacy it would be inappropriate to comment on specific reservations."