“It’s about people. Life is about people. It’s about trying to get the best out of everybody. I’m very demanding but very supportive of people. You want players to go out and feel 10 feet tall.
“It’s about hard work, it’s about character, it’s about having determination and also having a smile on your face. That’s very important too.” – Nigel Adkins
Smiles on faces havent been seen too regularly around St Mary’s Stadium since Southampton’s departure from the Premier League in 2005. The arrival of Harry Redknapp to the South Coast, during an ill-fated stay in between two successful spells at Portsmouth, wasn’t enough to stop a team, who had been a fixture in English football’s top division for 27 years, from dropping out of the top-flight.
From there things continued to get worse as the Saints, forced into selling a number of highly-talented youngsters – the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Andrew Surman and numerous others were plundered by bigger clubs, fully aware of the financial constraints within which Southampton were entwined – plummeted into League One.
However, some 30 months after their relegation into the third-tier and the club lead by Nigel Adkins are seemingly taking the express-route as they look to return to the top tier of the English game. Adkins arrived at the club last September, the club having parted company with the now-Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew, having made the transition from physio to manager at Scunthorpe United, whom he had twice lead to promotion from League One to the Championship. His successes at the modest club had lead supporters to sing “who needs Mourinho, we’ve got our physio.”
Before the season was out, the Saints had secured promotion, Adkins side taking second place behind Gus Poyet’s Brighton. This past weekend, the two promoted sides met at St.Mary’s Stadium, with the home side routing their opponents, a Rickie Lambert hat-trick securing a 3-0 victory and the club’s 20th successive home league win, leaving them just five wins behind the all-time league record, set by Bradford Park Avenue in the old Third Division North in 1927.
So what’s the secret to the South Coast renaissance?
Well in essence, it’s Adkins, the man who has lead the side to 45 wins from 65 matches since his arrival since he made his arrival at the club. He’s created a side that looks to entertain it’s supporters, who want to play good football and who are taking joy in their work. He’s coaxing the maximum from players, some of who had definitive question marks about whether they could perfom at the Championship level at the beginning of the season.
The clubs main striker Lambert has been a scorer of all kinds of goals in the lower leagues, but a scorer of them by the bucketload. With a good touch, excellent in the air, and a terrific striker of the ball with either foot, he’s always had the air of someone too good for the lower leagues.
However, the former Bristol Rovers man, who strikes a dead-ball as good as anyone outside the top-flight, isn’t the quickest – more Sheringham than Anelka in the speed stakes – and that may have counted against him when scouts have flocked to see him in recent seasons. Nonetheless, in an attacking side fuelled by creative intent and the confidence to express themselves, given to them from their manager, Lambert has thrived with 12 goals already this season.
But he isn’t the only one. Richard Chaplow was banished by Darren Ferguson at Preston North End last season. Club captain Dean Hammond has had a solid if unspectacular career at Brighton and Colchester. Dutch defender Jos Hooiveld ,on-loan from Celtic, has made only seven ill-fated appearances for the Hoops since his arrival in 2010, whilst talented youngster Jack Cork couldn’t make the breakthrough at Chelsea that it was hoped he would a few years back.
Throw into the mix the unpredictable yet devastatingly skillful, powerful forward Guly Do Prado, and the creative playmaker Adam Lallana, who starts on the left of Adkins preferred 4-4-2 formation but is given license to roam as he looks to stamp his mark on matches, and Southampton look a side capable of scoring goals, something they’ve proved during their recent dismissals of Coventry, Brighton and Middlesbrough.
Southampton right now look a talented side, yet pluck one of their number out of their line-up and drop him into another Championship side, taking away Adkins constant cajoling, and you question whether they’d be able perform week-in, week-out, to quite the same standard.
The unquestionable star of the show, in his own understated way – he is not a manager looking for the limelight, he is always quick to point to the work done by others at the club, from the Chairman, to his players, to the ground staff – is certainly Adkins.
The former psychology student will not be allowing complacency to creep into his side’s or, for that matter his own, psyche. He will remain as encouraging and as calculated as he has been all season when preparing for matches and whilst standing in his technical area. And that is just as threatening to any Championship side as what they’ll face on the pitch against the Saints this season.