After witnessing his side outplayed in a 6-1 loss to Arsenal, Saints manager Nigel Adkins commented in his post match interview that our season starts next week at St. Marys against Aston Villa.
He is right, it has to start next week which will already be our third home game of the season, and these are the games we have to win if we want to drag our way up the table.
No-one was under any illusions when the fixture list was published back in June that we were looking at one of the toughest starts that any newly promoted side has had to face for a number of years. A start to the season that looked so daunting that it could not have been much more of a tougher start if the Premier League had employed a Portsmouth fan to work out our fixtures.
The only realistic chance of early points looked to be from the home game against Wigan, but despite our best efforts it ended in a defeat, and now we find ourselves without a point in our opening four games. Those defeats need to be compartmentalised from the rest of the season, put in a box and filed under “disregard” because we have started a Premier League season this badly once before; back in 1998 under Dave Jones we lost our opening five matches, drew the next and then went on to lose 2 and draw 1 of the next 3, that is 2 points from the opening 27 points up for grabs. We avoided relegation on the final day, something that had become a habit of ours during the nineties, and the season became known as the “great escape” season, and t-shirts were produced in its honour.
Back then we were financially hamstrung by the confines of the Dell and its restricted capacity, this time around we have spent big by our standards, but the big money signings of Ramirez, Yoshida and Rodriguez need time to settle in.
The break in the league programme brought about by the latest round of World Cup qualifiers has not helped our cause, and hopefully this coming week will see the new players finally getting some suitable training sessions with the rest of the squad.
The trouncing at the Emirates means that we have now shifted 14 goals in our opening four matches and our defence is our main concern right now. In the past two seasons we have always had the ability to outscore our opponents and most of our defeats were due to the sporadic occasions we failed to convert our chances in to goals.
This season we will not score as many goals, that is the nature of playing against quality defenders and goalkeepers, but we do have goals in us as we have proved against both Manchester clubs. Our squad lacks that all important Premier League familiarity, and our defenders are in all probability just beginning to comprehend just how much effort they need to put in to prevent the opposition from scoring. Make a mistake at Championship and League One level and more often than not you get away with it, make the same mistake in the Premier League and you will quickly find that you are playing catch-up.
It is not just the defence that is the problem, goalkeeper Kelvin Davies’ performances have been less than encouraging and he is starting to take on the appearance of a man out of his depth at this level.
Also the midfield does not seem to be capable of helping out defensively when we are not in possession of the ball; they are not tracking back or closing down the man in possession. This does nothing but drag the defenders out of position allowing the opposition attackers to exploit the space in behind and create guilt-edged goal scoring chances.
Is Nigel Adkins position under threat? No-one outside the St. Marys boardroom really knows, after all Alan Pardew was dismissed for reasons other than results, so this is new ground for the powers that be at Southampton, the first time they will have had to make a decision on a managers ability to get results.
The majority of Saints fans will not want to see Adkins relieved of his duties, but no manager can expect to keep his job if the results do not come, and the next two games could well define our season. Villa at home and Everton away, two games that on their own are not going to be easy but add on expectation and the pressure may well affect the team’s performance, for all the plaudits we garnered from defeats to City and United, I would happily accept a scrappy one goal victory right now, hell even a point would do!