Southampton: A Reputation To Be Earned

Nigel Adkins had a reason, rather than an excuse for a poor start last season, but Mauricio Pochettino doesn't. He must justify his reputation, and quickly...

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LAST SEASON

Premier League 14th FA Cup third round League Cup fourth round

Manager Mauricio Pochettino (since January 2013) Odds on being first out of his job 16-1 (6th)

Players in Victor Wanyama (Celtic, £12.5m), Dejan Lovren (Lyon, £8.5m)

Players out None of significance

Club turnover in 2011-12 N/A

Handicap betting to win Premier League +35 points (9th)

As Nigel Adkins sets out in search of a third promotion in four seasons, Mauricio Pochettino embarks on what is intended to be a first full season in England. To many - including this writer - the replacement of Adkins after lifting the Saints from League One smacked of ingratitude. Yet there would have been few arguments had Southampton carried on the way they started. Opening the campaign with four defeats, culminating in a 6-1 defeat to Arsenal, does not quite tell the story: 3-2 defeats to both Manchester clubs came in worthy performances. But the other loss was 2-0 at home to Wigan and there was just one victory in the first 10 games.

What shocked was that by January 18 Southampton had lost two of their previous 12 league games and had just come away from Stamford Bridge with a point. Yes, they were 15th, but two months earlier they had been 19th. Adkins and his team were finding their feet, when he was cut off at the knees. Pochettino was only able to lift them a single place, and that on goal difference. He took 19 points from 16 games as opposed to Adkins's 22 from 22 but, similar to Paolo Di Canio's "improvement" of Sunderland, that boils down to a single win. And having had four points from 10 games, Adkins had claimed 18 in his last dozen.

The Argentinian is given credit for tightening up the Saints and it is true that an inherited goal difference of -10 declined by only a single goal over his tenure - but the last defeat Adkins suffered by more than one goal had come on November 5 and he had improved it from -14 to that -10 by the time he was sacked.

There seems, nonetheless, to be broad acceptance among Saints fans about what happened. But one wonders how they will feel if the perceived improvement in style does not deliver significant returns in terms of points - all the more so given the splashing out on Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren. That £20m investment is considerable for a club so recently in dire financial straits, albeit one now enjoying the new Premier League TV deal.

The message from the bookies is mixed. On the one hand the handicap betting places Southampton ninth, a considerable rise on their final placing. On the other, Pochettino is sixth favourite to be first out of his job, though that may reflect a belief he could be lured away (and there have been rumours to that effect). But neither figure reflects that this is in theory the difficult second season for a side that finished with 41 points. Any slip back and they are in severe danger.

The dismissal of the manager eroded a considerable feelgood factor about the St Mary's club. They had returned from the brink of oblivion, or at least League One, and brought players with them, most gloriously Rickie Lambert, the journeyman made good. The Premier League is richer for drawing members from as wide a geographical spread as possible. It would be good to be able to embrace Southampton. But doing so feels a little dirty.

Perhaps Pochettino, with a pre-season to instil his ideas, can improve more than just the tackling and pressing. But there was little to choose between most of the bottom half and it would be no surprise if Southampton laboured to escape that category.

Adkins had reason, rather than excuse, for his poor start. With away games at West Brom and Norwich and visits from Sunderland and West Ham in the opening weeks, his successor needs to show quickly that there is substance to his reputation.

Philip Cornwall

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