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A Chat With The Opposition: Southampton

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In light of Southampton’s promotion back to the Premier League, @stiuge sat down with Saints fan Chris Rann @crstig getting a grasp on whether The Championship runners-up can stay in the top-flight next season.

First question. Were you surprised to see your team promoted, or confident that you’d pull it off? Southampton is a big club with fantastic youth academy after all.

I was surprised. This club has been building steadily since our dramatic fall from grace. The Academy has still been producing talent on the pitch, but they have largely moved on pretty quickly. Since the Liebherr family took the club over though things have started to look up.

I had no doubt we would get out of League One relatively quickly, but I thought this season would be one of consolidation. Back to back promotions was beyond our wildest dreams.

Are you happy with the players Nigel Adkins managed to sign during the 2011-12 campaign?

Billy Sharp seems to have hit the ground running since joining from Doncaster.

Which one was the best coup of the lot?

I think a lot of fans thought that the only thing Adkins was lacking was an ability to bring in the right players, but I think he has put that to bed this season. Jack Cork has come in and played a part in every single league game, filling in anywhere in midfield and along the back four.

Steve de Ridder struggled to hit the ground running, and often found himself left out, but certainly looks to have great potential. Billy Sharp came with doubts, but was crucial towards the end of the season, chipping in with his share of the goals.

The best signing for me though has been Dutch centre half Jos Hooiveld who came initially on loan from Celtic. Solid and no nonsense Jos quickly established himself as a cult hero, and even hit some important midweek goals!

Southampton have surprised some of us this season after some great results of late, and rebuilding of the squad seems to be on right track

What are the biggest reasons that got you promoted and which areas you need to strengthen for Premier League?

I can’t emphasise enough how important Nigel Adkins has been. The decision to remove Alan Pardew when we were in the bottom half of League One, was met with surprise, but has seemingly worked out well for all concerned. Adkins has instilled a winning mentality at the club from the bottom up, confidence is extremely high.

The level of team spirit at the club is amazing, and he fabled “feel good factor” has been a live and well on the South Coast for the last two seasons. As an ex-physio he has a big thing about fitness too, and the likes of Lambert and Sharp have looked far leaner than they did when they arrived.

We need to strengthen defensively for me. At times we have rode our luck at the back, and we won’t get away with it in the Premier League, add to that a goalscoring midfielder and I think we have a decent squad to go forward with.

Which players from your current crop you see making the biggest impact next season and why?

I think Rickie Lambert will score goals at any level. Also, I think Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin will finally have the stage to show just how much ability they have, and I think they could be our two key players going into the new season.

Lallana has every trick in the book available to him and Schneiderlin is one of those players, perhaps typically continental that has the technique to control play. Keep an eye out for James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw too. They could be the next two to come off the conveyor belt.

You must think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is doing a pretty good job at Arsenal now, were you confident he would mature into a player he is this quickly?

In a word. Yes. The kid has it all. Pace, skill, passing, intelligence and finishing. The impact he had on the Saints first team surpassed that of Walcott and Bale for me, and has a direct comparison he was a far better, far more mature player than Walcott.  

He is an England regular soon. Nailed on.

Do you see Rickie Lambert being a hit in the PL like Grant Holt’s done or will he be worked out at this level?

I don’t think you can ever be 100% sure, but I am confident. Holt has had a fantastic season in the Premier League, but for me Lambert is the better all round player. He is extremely important to the way we play, goals or no goals.

He really is a talented footballer, not just a talented goalscorer. It is staggering to think that at 30, last season in the Championship, is his one and only outside the bottom two divisions. Hopefully he will hit the ground running, and have another great season. He’s paid his dues. He deserves it.

I’d like to ask about Jack Cork, player who I think already proved Chelsea wrong in letting him go. He had fantastic loan spells in Championship before too. You snapped him up for free and he has been impressive on your midfield along with Guly do Prado. What do you make of him?

I like Cork a lot. We had him on loan when were in the Championship last time, and he was quality then. He is one of those dependable players, he might not have a spectacular game, but he rarely has a bad one.

As I mentioned earlier he can play anywhere but up front, and is composed on the ball. Would he have made it Chelsea? I’m not sure, that is a pretty difficult place to get a game, but he will be comfortable in the Premier League with us.

Guly do Prado, could be our dark horse. Often maligned by our own fans for “not trying” he has abundance of skill, and is perhaps a victim of just not being an English style of player. It is conceivable that with the time and space of the Premier League, the Brazilian will really come into his own. I certainly hope so, in terms of pure footballing talent, he is realistically, the best we have.

Do you have a favourite game played v United in the past?

Countless! Terrorising you at the Dell became a pretty nice tradition for us for a while! I would have to pick out the 6-3 I suppose if I have to pick one. I remember sitting in my seat in the East Stand and actually not quite believing what I was watching. I remember being immensely proud when David Beckham named the Dell as the most difficult place to play in an interview!

I can’t let this section go past without a mention of Massimo Taibi and the 3-3 at Old Trafford in 1999/00, as much as I enjoyed the keeper’s gaff, it overshadowed just how good Marian Pahars was that day!

If you could pick three players from the current United side, who would you pick and why?

Well the first one is easy. I wouldn’t hesitate to take Paul Scholes. Bringing him out of retirement showed just how behind we are as a nation technically. At 35, he is still the best midfielder this country has produced for a long time. I love the way he plays the game, quiet and unassuming, but deadly.

He should be the blueprint for any young attack minded midfield player, constantly looking for the best option and using the ball with fantastic efficiency. It would be crazy of me not to take Wayne Rooney too I suppose, and I reckon Nani could probably do a job for us on the wing.

Where do you think you will finish next season, survival must be number one priority?

Hmmm…. I said 10th last season and got it all wrong, but I am happy to be conservative again. It will of course depend on how much we invest in the squad, hopefully we will go the Norwich route rather than the QPR one and just add to our current nucleus in certain areas.

There will be money to spend, of that I am sure, but I don’t see our owners being reckless. I will be extremely happy with 17th, but I will go for 15th.

Thanks to Chris for the interview, check out his brilliant Southampton blog!

By @stiuge