The Saints are now unbeaten in five, conceding just two during that spell and keeping three clean sheets: the most recent came against Nigel Clough’s Derby County side in an emphatic 4-0 win in which January signing Tadanari Lee scored his first goal for the club, with a thunderous effort from just inside the box.
The blip is well and truly over: it concerned a few Saints fans, as Southampton went nine games with only two wins and their impenetrable home record came to an end, first stumbling to Blackpool in a 2-2 draw and then losing to Bristol City in the last game of 2011. However, a timely return of form has steadied the ship and Southampton are back at the top of the table: even if it is only till Tuesday, when one of West Ham’s two games in hand present a chance for The Hammers to return to the top. Still, independent of the games in hand for other sides, Saints will remain in the automatic promotion places, where they have been all season.
With a reinforced squad, thanks to some astute January signings in the form of free transfer Tadanari Lee, a Japanese international from Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Spanish winger Iago Falque on loan from Tottenham and 10-goal Billy Sharp from Doncaster Rovers, and construction of the new Football Development & Support Centre at the Staplewood training ground underway, as the club continue to pride themselves on high quality graduates such as Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, the South Coast club looks destined for the Premier League.
MayCauseOffence’s Jordan Florit looks at the top five reasons why Southampton F.C. will be in the Premier League next season:
Nigel Adkins and Andy Crosby
By Brighton, Portsmouth and most recently West Ham fans, Nigel Adkins is detested. His ever positive demeanour and his extensive use of clichés and metaphors can frustrate opposition fans and is confused for pseudo-arrogance: however, the management duo is far from arrogant. For them, preparation is key and a painfully long process, but one well worth undergoing.
For all the importance of Nigel Adkins’ tactical nous, it would be worthless without Andy Crosby’s clever set plays and his ability on the training ground to get players “Saints fit,” and both have been invaluable in the set up at St. Mary’s: along with Dean Wilkins, Andy Crosby runs the fitness programme at Staplewood, and Adkins has commended it for the turnaround Rickie Lambert has experienced in his fitness and expects the same to happen for Billy Sharp. For the value of Crosby’s set plays, which Adkins describes as “massively important,” look no further than the weekend’s result in which two of Southampton’s four goals came from set plays.
Considered by TheSeventyTwo as the best player in the Championship, Adam Lallana’s form will be pivotal in determining whether Southampton F.C. finish in the automatic promotion places or not. Utilising one of his most used catchphrases, Nigel Adkins summed up Lallana’s influence on Saints post-match, describing him as a player who “oozes class, it’s as simple as that.”
Saints fans cheekily sing that he overshadows Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, but whilst Southampton fans do so with a tongue firmly placed in cheek, to say he is this generation’s Matthew Le Tissier to the Southampton faithful, is no understatement. His boisterous flair, his jinking turns and twists and his measured confidence is what makes Saints tick and his good health will be vital in Southampton’s 14-game run in until the end of the season.
At current, Lallana has five assists and is therefore Southampton’s fifth highest assister and yesterday’s volleyed goal, a scintillating finish, which saw the talented attacking midfielder finish the moved he started on the half-way line with a one-two with Tadanari Lee, was his eighth goal of the season.
Southampton’s current #7, a shirt never really done justice at St. Mary’s since Matthew Le Tissier until now, has made the step up to the Championship effortlessly and for all that doubted whether he would, his name at the top of the scoring charts in England’s second tier is proof enough that he has done so. With sixteen goals to his name and twenty in all competitions, Rickie Lambert has been Southampton’s Grant Holt if Saints are set to “do a Norwich.”
However, that lazy comparison to Grant Holt, Lambert’s former striking partner from his days at Rochdale, is wide of the mark. Hopefully, Rickie Lambert, who turned thirty last week, will get his chance to shine in the Premier League: until then, he can only continue to prove himself as the best striker outside of the top flight, a sentiment expressed by the masses on Twitter in response to Crawley Town’s Steve Evans claiming Tyrone Barnett is the best striker in the Football League.
Goals all over the park
With an average of 1.81 goals scored per game, the best goal difference in the league by six at +26 and the most goals scored in the league with 58, Southampton F.C are rather flush with goals. Add to that impressive goal-scoring display of facts, top goal-scorer Rickie Lambert hasn’t scored in the league for four games now, yet Southampton have still scored seven picking up eight points, beating Burnley and Derby and drawing to then top-of-the table West Ham and unbeaten at home Birmingham.
Although £1.8m Billy Sharp is yet to score for Southampton (properly, anyway), his teammates have produced goals from all over the park: Saints have 14 different goal-scorers, two players in double figures (three including Sharp) and a further two with more than five. Southampton’s knack for goal-scoring is undoubtedly aided by the fact that seemingly any player can create a goal at Saints: out of the top fifteen assisters in the league, four are Southampton players, whilst overall the South Coast side have 12 assisters, five of which have at least five assists to their name. Frazer Richardson and Rickie Lambert both have nine assists, whilst Danny Fox’s weekend hat-trick of assists takes his total to eight.
Competition for places
“We’ve got such a good squad here. The gaffer could change the whole team and we’ve still got a team that can play exactly how we always play.” Building a team in League One that would be ready for the Championship and doing the same this season in preparation from the Premier League has led to the scenario that Aaron Martin describes here. Undoubtedly, the financial backing the club has, has allowed Southampton to build such a competitive squad and as the last fourteen games approach, it is this competition that will give Southampton an edge in the race for promotion.
For Danny Fox, there is Dan Harding; for Billy Sharp there is David Connolly; for Morgan Schneiderlin there is Dean Hammond and for Guly Do Prado there is Steve de Ridder. For many teams, balancing such a strong squad with individual player happiness is a tough gig: however, as highlighted by Jason Puncheon, Nigel Adkins has developed a togetherness among the team and a shared attitude is at play: “Promotion is not just going to be about what 11 players can do but about what 19 or 20 can do. And wherever you look at this club, there are at least 19 or 20 players good enough to play. So no-one has a divine right to be in the team. You have to be there on merit.”