Southampton: Can They 'Do A Norwich'?

The parallels are pretty obvious - the rise through the divisions, the adored manager, the journeyman striker, the minimal spending. Can they repeat their survival trick?

Last Updated: 13/08/12 at 14:20 Post Comment

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Last season:

Championship Runners-up; FA Cup Fourth round; Carling Cup Fourth round.

Manager Nigel Adkins (since September 2010) Odds on being first out of his job 8-1 (joint second favourite).

Transfers in Steve Davis (Rangers), Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace), Paulo Gazzaniga (Gillingham), Jay Rodriguez (Burnley).

Transfers out Bartosz Bialkowski (Notts County), Lee Holmes (Preston), Dan Harding (Nottingham Forest), Ryan Doble (Shrewsbury), Tommy Forecast (Gillingham), Aaron Martin (Crystal Palace).

Three years ago Southampton were playing Norwich in League One, finishing seventh, while Paul Lambert's side won the first of back-to-back promotions by lifting the title. Now, having emulated the Carrow Road side with successive rises, the Saints will seek to do so again by staying in the Premier League.

Alan Pardew had laboured in that first League One season under a ten-point deduction, the consequence of administration, and would have made the play-offs without it. But Nigel Adkins took over a side with one win and three defeats in their first five games. What has happened since, for the former Scunthorpe physio, has been more remarkable than the renaissance Pardew has enjoyed at St James' Park, even if there was something of a stumble towards the finishing line in the Championship.

The comparisons with Norwich continue in the shape of Rickie Lambert, who like Grant Holt has spent years knocking around the lower divisions without attracting Premier League interest and has now earned himself a chance there the hard way. The Saints' chances of surviving may hang on whether he can match Holt in keeping up a decent strike rate; this is a comparison you will get bored of hearing.

Not that Adkins is relying solely on his 30-year-old for goals. Billy Sharp, 26, made an immediate impact at St Mary's after moving from Doncaster in January. Jay Rodriguez has a fine scoring record at 23, even if the only Burnley appearances he made in their top-flight season were in the Carling Cup.

At the back, Nathaniel Clyne is a young, quick attacking full-back who can also defend and Crystal Palace were understandably aggrieved at losing him for only a youth training fee. Sadly for fans of Viz's Billy the Fish, Tommy Forecast was loaned to Gillingham when the goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga moved the other way.

But don't expect much more spending and, having sunk so far, I don't imagine Saints fans would want to do anything to risk oblivion. The late Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr rescued them in 2009 from a fate similar to Portsmouth's and set them on the way off the pitch. He died a month before Adkins was appointed so sadly did not see the benefits of his benefaction. To risk a return to crisis would be to betray Liebherr and Southampton will not go down that route; it is a far bigger fear than relegation, especially after a promotion few would have expected a year ago.

It is always possible that Southampton will surprise in the way that Norwich and especially Swansea did but survival hopes rest largely on their fellow promoted sides and the trio who came up last year, especially the Canaries and Swans, birds who have lost the brains behind their unexpected success.

Adkins will hope that, like Brendan Rodgers' Swansea last season, his side will be able to pass their way through the Premier League in the manner in which they approached the Championship. He also needs them to cope with a bruising opening without taking too many dents to their confidence: after kicking off at Manchester City, Manchester United follow Wigan at St Mary's and the second away game is at Arsenal.

But there is a bigger picture for Southampton away from results and whatever happens this season you have to hope that Adkins will be preparing for another St Mary's campaign this time next year.

Philip Cornwall

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