SOUTHAMPTON have enjoyed a remarkable upturn in fortunes over the past few years to rise from the depths of despair . . . and they are not about to give up what has been achieved easily after overcoming a difficult start to life in the Barclays Premier League.
Nigel Adkins’ side were being written off as relegation favourites when they won only one of their first ten matches and conceded 28 goals in the process, but a crunch victory at fellow strugglers QPR heralded a productive period which changed their whole outlook.
After a credible point at Fulham on Boxing Day, the Saints enter the second half of their Premier League campaign firmly believing that they can accumulate enough points to hold onto that top-flight status.
It took back-to-back promotions to lift Southampton back into the Premier League after a seven year absence in which a return to that level had seemed light years away when they went into administration and sunk into the third tier for the first time in 50 years.
They couldn’t have been presented with a tougher start, two of their first three games being against the Manchester clubs with a visit to Arsenal shortly afterwards.
It was perhaps not surprising that all of them ended in defeat, but the Saints could consider themselves unlucky to lose 3-2 to both City and United before their defensive vulnerability was then exposed by a Gunners side which ran out 6-1 winners at the Emirates Stadium.
Adkins was given the opportunity to invest in strengthening his squad, breaking the club’s transfer record by paying out £12 million to acquire Gaston Ramirez from Bologna; the previous best having been the £4 million they spent on signing our own Rory Delap from Derby County.
There was an enormous sense of relief when they produced a storming second half fightback to earn their first win of the Premier League campaign against Aston Villa, but it was the impressive 3-1 victory at Loftus Road last month which gave rise to so much optimism.
It began a run of five matches in which their only defeat was a narrow one at Liverpool, while they gained further victories over Newcastle United and Reading at St Mary’s.
Although their countdown to the crucial Christmas and New Year period suffered a setback when they were beaten at home by Sunderland, they will be encouraged by the fact that they are showing more defensive solidity which is now allied to their attacking riches where Rickie Lambert is once again leading the way.
Full name: Southampton Football Club
Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium
Chairman: Nicola Cortese
Manager: Nigel Adkins
2011/12: Championship (2nd), FA Cup (Fourth Round), League Cup (Fourth Round).
Record transfer fee paid: £12m for Gastón Ramírez to Bologna, August 2012.
Record transfer fee received: £15m for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal, August 2011.
Introducing the Gaffer
It is little more than six years ago that Nigel Adkins swopped the treatment room for the managerial hotseat . . . but he has enjoyed a considerable amount of success in that relatively short period of time.
The one-time physiotherapist has achieved no fewer than four promotion triumphs, the first two of them with Scunthorpe United before guiding Southampton from League One to the Premier League in quick succession.
Adkins has joined a select number of managers of have gained back-to-back promotions to lift a club into the Premier League; Paul Lambert being another to have accomplished the feat recently whilst with Norwich City.
As a goalkeeper with Tranmere Rovers and Wigan Athletic during his playing days, the 47-year-old from Birkenhead was pursuing a career in physiotherapy and after gaining his qualifications at the University of Salford, he was operating in that role at Scunthorpe United when they decided to replace Brian Laws.
Success there attracted the attention of other clubs and led to him being appointed as Southampton manager in September 2010 following the departure of Alan Pardew. Once again, he wasted no time in making a big impact.
The Saints achieved a club record number of clean sheets in storming to promotion from League One, resulting in him being named the division’s Manager of the Year, and they carried that momentum into last season by launching glorious run that led to them gaining automatic promotion to the Premier League.
Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur (12:45)
Aston Villa v Wigan Athletic
Fulham v Swansea City
Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion
Norwich City v Manchester City
Reading v West Ham United
STOKE CITY v SOUTHAMPTON
Arsenal v Newcastle United (17:30)
Everton v Chelsea (Sunday, 13:30)
Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool (Sunday, 16:00)
All games kick-off at 15:00 on Saturday unless otherwise stated.
Head to Head
League: 24 Stoke City wins; 27 Southampton wins; 9 draws
FA Cup: 1 Stoke City win; 0 Southampton wins; 0 draws
TOTAL: 25 Stoke City wins; 27 Southampton wins; 9 draws
Last Five Encounters
Stoke City 3-2 Southampton (Championship) – 12/02/2008
Southampton 3-2 Stoke City (Championship) – 25/08/2007
Stoke City 2-1 Southampton (Championship) – 10/03/2007
Southampton 1-0 Stoke City (Championship) – 21/10/2006
Stoke City 1-2 Southampton (Championship) – 15/04/2006
Stoke City win 4/5; Southampton win 15/4; draw 5/2
Referee – Mark Clattenburg
Northumberland official Mark Clattenburg returns to the Britannia Stadium for the first time since September… after he oversaw City’s 1-1 with draw with Premier League champions Manchester City.
Saturday’s visit of Southampton will be his eleventh top flight game of the year, with his most recent coming in Aston Villa’s 4-0 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Boxing Day.
Of those eleven games, the home side has come out on top once – hopefully not a bad omen for the Potters.
He has also refereed in a World Cup qualifier, plus games in the Champions League and Europa League. He has awarded 50 yellow cards and 4 reds.