Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughCan the Saints keep marching in? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Can the Saints keep marching in? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Can the Saints keep marching in?

Be honest now.

Hands up everyone who thought this season’s nPower Championship would be a heavyweight tussle between Big Sam’s West Ham and Sven’s lavishly-assembled Leicester?

Yet with 16 matches now played, the Hammers sit second, five points off the top, while the now Sven-less Leicester are a costly twelfth; both trail the pre-season dark horses Southampton, who were priced at 20/1 to win the division at the start of August.

The Saints are now as short as 11/8 on the high street, after racking up eleven victories from the opening third of the campaign, with a refreshing brand of slick, attacking football seldom seen in English football’s second tier.

It’s been sweet vindication for manager Nigel Adkins, whose meticulous professionalism and positivity have helped reawaken a former founding member of the Premier League who had been stuck in the doldrums for all too long.

Upon his arrival at St. Mary’s in September 2010, the former physio set his sights on a return to the top-flight and building a squad equipped for a promotion charge in the Championship.

Adkins, along with his assistant Andy Crosby, swiftly forged a water-tight team spirit to ally a team already boasting the likes of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana José Fonte and the up-and-coming Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

After successfully following Brighton up the League One promotion ladder last May, Adkins promised only a couple of additions to enhance his side, determined not to disturb the strong squad dynamic and winning culture.

It was a statement of unequivocal confidence – but one even the most ardent Saints fan could be forgiven for feeling unsure with.

True to his word though, there were only four new arrivals; dynamic midfielder Jack Cork from Chelsea, exciting winger Steve De Ridder from Dutch side De Graafschap, cultured left-back Danny Fox from Burnley and, on transfer deadline day, elegant centre-half Jos Hooiveld, who joined on loan from Celtic.

How the records have tumbled since – even with the departure of teenage prodigy Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal.

Top of the table and the league’s top scorers, Adkins has led the club to their best league start for 90 years, and Saints have now recorded 17 consecutive home league wins, and 19 in all competitions. Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham, West Ham and Middlesbrough have all been vanquished at St. Mary’s this season.

The squad’s team spirit remains strong too; with less than fifteen minutes to play both a goal and man down away to the beaten play-off finalists most teams would have wilted, but faced with this scenario Saints secured a point at Reading in October.

Each of the summer captures have made the desired impact, while the rejuvenation of Richard Chaplow just shows how Adkins has so far got things spot on, but given his penchant for attention to all the minor details it’s hardly surprising.

The question is though, when does a good start equate to a good season? Despite the clichés, you feel the next eight games until January will go some way to defining this – with three fixtures against teams in the relegation zone, four against play-off contenders, and the other against the arch-enemy Portsmouth.

Saints are far from the finished article though, and do have some notable weaknesses. Form on the road has been a concern – their 4-2 win at Coventry was their first away since August.

The defence has appeared brittle at times too, keeping only five clean sheets in their 20 appearances so far.

And although the heavenly attacking quartet of Lambert, Lallana, David Connolly and Guly Do Prado have plundered 25 times so far, they do over rely on Lambert and Lallana – two of the division’s outstanding attacking players.

Provided those two can stay on the right side of form, fitness and consistency, then the Saints bus could once again stop in the Premier League after a seven-year hiatus.

But you get the feeling that whatever the outcome next May, Adkins will be perfectly prepared.

James Riley

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