Sunday, 13 November 2011

Flying High at the Top

Who would have thought it? 16 games played, 36 points on the board already and lead the npower Championship by 5 points! It has been a sensational start to the 2011/2012 season for Southampton after an abysmal few years with relegation from the Premier League in 2005, administration (April 2009) which condemned the Saints to playing in League One along with the numerous amount of changes behind the scenes. 

Before the start of the season, every Saints fan would have had their own prediction on how the club’s return to the Championship would fare out and already, there is the possibility of back-to-back promotions which Norwich City did the inevitable last season. They were the first club to complete this feat since Manchester City in 2000 that, at the time, were managed by Joe Royle.
When the fixtures came out in June, the Saints were faced with a tough run of fixtures within August alone with Leeds visiting St. Mary’s before away trips to Barnsley and Ipswich and finishing off at home to Millwall and away to pre-season favourites Leicester. To come away with 12 points from a possible 15 is an incredible achievement in itself as Saints are known for starting seasons fairly slowly.

Since then, Southampton have grown from strength to strength especially with their prolific home form, where an average crowd of 24,980 have seen eight straight wins in the league so far this season. Bringing their tremendous home form from last season is one of the many reasons of the club’s success so far this season with having won, at present, 17 consecutive home league wins. Saints fans know that the Championship is a very competitive league with 18 out of the 24 clubs that have previously played in the Premier League.

Making your home ground a fortress in any league in football is crucial especially if you want to get to the very top which is where the Saints want to be. The Dell was a ground that teams feared playing at with the crowd sitting very close to the action and bringing a decent home record from there has been essential to the Saints. If they can keep up their impressive winning mentality at home, they could match the record set by Bradford Park Avenue in the 1926/27 season with an astonishing 25 consecutive home league wins.

Another catalyst to Southampton’s sensational start is the manager Nigel Adkins with who was appointed last September. Adkins came to Southampton with the club languishing in the bottom four of League One after the sudden sacking of Alan Pardew. I remember watching Adkins’ first game in charge away at MK Dons and it was clear that along with club’s ultimate aim of promotion to the Championship, to pick up a depleted squad that had only won only one match out of their first five league games. Adkins’ managerial record was what impressed chairman Nicola Cortese into choosing the Liverpudlian with having won two promotions with Scunthorpe and winning the Welsh League with Bangor City. Since his appointment, Southampton began to climb up the table before clinching promotion in May finishing just three points behind Brighton.

Positivity has been a major factor with Adkins and his players bringing a winning mentality from League One into the Championship as he looks to fulfil the club’s dream of a place amongst England’s elite since relegation in 2005. Adkins is an honest man who certainly knows what he is doing and never gets too carried away which every Saints fan needs to be careful about. The Saints may be top of the Championship in present times however the Championship is a very unpredictable league with change, in terms of the league table, surely to occur as the season goes on. Can the Saints stay as top dogs?

Pre-season, Adkins stated that there would be at least 15 teams that would love to be promoted including the Saints and that the Championship is a very difficult league. Consistency is the key if Southampton are to achieve their dream especially on the road as Saturday’s 4-2 win at Coventry was only our third away win of the campaign, our first since our thrashing at Ipswich in August. Of course every team Saints come up against will prove to be a test however I have seen that we have been more patient when we have the ball and gradually create chances from the off. I have been really impressed in the way we keep possession with no fear and most importantly, the players are enjoying their football. The Saints are currently the top scorers in the Championship with 37 and the fans have seen some fantastic goals this season including Steve De Ridder’s cracker at Reading.

Nine of the 37 goals have been scored by talisman Rickie Lambert, who wanted to prove to himself that he can compete in the Championship. Signed for £1 million from Bristol Rovers in 2009, Lambert has been money well spent scoring 68 goals in 130 appearances for the Saints who is known to the St. Mary’s faithful as Southampton’s Goal Machine. There were doubts about his weight and diet before the season started however he has been an influential part of the squad which includes a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest. 

It’s not just Lambert who is getting all of the plaudits, it’s the entire squad for getting the club where they are with the likes of Adam Lallana who again has been a joy to watch, twisting and turning players alike with his wonderful skill also playing a part. The new signings of Jack Cork, Steve De Ridder, Danny Fox and Jos Hooiveld have all impressed so far this season for different reasons and will continue to play their part in what it a truly terrific squad of players at Nigel Adkins’ disposal. Come January, it will be interesting to see where Nigel will want to improve in the squad with rumours for Doncaster’s Billy Sharp still in the picture.

So far, so good for Southampton on their return to the Championship. Lead by five points, scored more goals than any other team in the league and they are worth every single penny when the fans watch them play. The strength and depth of the squad has also been crucial in the season so far and there is so much more to come from the Saints. The main question now is: Can they be consistent all season to get promotion?

No comments:

Post a Comment