A steep learning curve
As a newly promoted club, my one and only target for the season was for Southampton to finish higher than 18th. Before the season began I remember thinking that if we could get to January still 'in the mix' with the teams around us, a few quality transfers during the window would be enough to see us to safety when May came around.
January 9th, 2013
Whether you’re a fan of the transfer window system or not, the beauty of the January window is that if you didn’t know of any weaknesses in your team, it’s the perfect opportunity to do something about it. The first half of the season can be seen as an experiment in that respect, a lead up to the crunch games in the second half, if you like.
Most Saints fans would have been well aware of weaknesses in the team – an unfortunate negative consequence of achieving back-to-back promotions. The squad, who carried their winning ways from League One straight into the Championship and on to the home of the English elite, had barely had a chance to take it all in. The result being a handful of players with enough quality to play in the Premier League, surrounded by a squad that was largely punching above their weight (no disrespect to them). Whilst our attacking capabilities couldn’t be questioned, our defence wasn’t brilliant – even in the Championship. This problem would have been even more obvious had we not scored as many goals as we did.
Defensively, Southampton have showed massive signs of improvement and their recent form certainly reflects that, having only lost twice in the last ten games. Before that run of form, boss Nigel Adkins was one of the favourites to be the first managerial casualty of the season. Amazing really, considering what the man had achieved in so little time. But the fact of the matter was that by being successful, Nigel Adkins had heaped immense pressure on himself.
When he took charge of the club, Saints chairman Nicola Cortese outlined a 5 year plan to return to the Premier League. That plan meant that Adkins had 3 years to take Southampton out of the Championship and – more importantly – 6 transfer windows in which to build a squad capable of not only surviving once it reached the top, but competing as well. Which is the exact reason why West Ham have enjoyed a much better spell back in the Premier League this time around; because their squad was much better equipped for it.
As it happens, Nigel Adkins and the Southampton players have shown a fantastic ability to learn and adapt to their new surroundings, with that determination and effort finally coming to fruition, as their recent run of form highlights. Now the opportunity is there to add more quality to the squad, and help to build on what everyone at the club has worked so hard to achieve in the first half of the season.
We’ve kept ourselves in the mix and the second half is under way. But will it be joy or heartbreak for Saints when the final whistle blows in May? My heart says yes, but probably more encouraging than that, my head does too.