We are now 23 games into the Premier League season and finally, it seems Southampton have found their feet. In a season where Leicester City are three points clear at the top and Chelsea have dealt battle with Bournemouth, Norwich and Villa for relegation, It would hardly be preposterous to suggest that Southampton can compete in Europe for the second season running. Here’s why.
The opening fixtures were greeted by fans as periods of transition, but as Southampton approached the midway point of the season, attractive football and results were few and far between.
Matchday 19 saw Southampton suffer a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Slaven Bilic’s Payet-less Hammers. Matchday 20 brought even more misery, with Southampton leaving Carrow Road empty handed. And one week later, Alan Pardew’s Palace dumped Southampton out of the FA cup.
But then, with a change of system, the return of Fraser Forster and the revenant of Shane Long, Southampton find themselves having played three games with nine points, six goals and three clean sheets to show for it.
Despite this being the first time Southampton have clicked all season, they sit in the comfortable heights of eighth place in irrepressible form. All of this makes for good reason to be optimistic for the remainder of the season, right?
Since being in the Premier League, one of Southampton’s biggest downfalls has been squandering those crucial moments and failing to bury half chances; quite frankly, this is what separates mid table teams from the top four. This season especially, Southampton have started the first half brightly, carving a number of key chances for themselves. However, putting them away has proved rather difficult to watch.
With Charlie Austin now in Southampton’s ranks, they have their proven goal scorer; they have a game winner. To put it into facts and stats, Pelle has taken 175 shots since the start of the 2014/15 Premier League season, scoring 18 goals. In that same time, Austin has taken 179 shots and scored 29 goals in a far less able attacking outlet.
Southampton fans have every reason to be optimistic about the prospect of Austin’s movement, positioning and finishing in the red and white stripes. One can only hope that with the addition of Austin, fans won’t have to rue those wasted chances come the final whistle.
The signing of Charlie Austin has been made all the more thrilling as its coincided with the return of England International Fraser Forster, the integration of England U21 Matt Targett and the simply faultless performance from James Ward-Prowse versus West Bromwich Albion.
Why may this help us achieve European football? we have our identity back. Youth development and an English spine have gone hand in hand with Southampton over previous years and during the first half of this season, it was nowhere to be seen. Whilst we all love watching Pelle tuck one away, it’s all the sweeter watching an England International rifle one home.
The fans are once again thrilled to watch local boys represent their club, impressed to see that we have a set direction and that foreign players can understand what we’re all about. A club losing its identity is dangerous and hard to recover, simply look at Manchester United. But right now, It’s exciting. Really exciting.
So exciting in fact that wantaway transfer rebel, Victor Wanyama, has reportedly told friends and family that he wants to sign a new deal. Refusing to sell our finest talents has been a big step toward growing as a club, but convincing them to extend their stay, that’s a sign of ambition to all players currently in the squad and potential future signings. Not only does it provide a mental boost to the team, but it also allows Koeman to plan for the future and know that he can rely on Wanyama. Pinning down stars on a new contract means far more than just retaining the talent.
Now we come to Fraser Forster. It could easily be argued that the England International has been the catalyst in Southampton’s revival of form. Since returning from injury, Forster and our now discipline defence have kept Watford (H), West Bromwich Albion (H) and Manchester United (A) at bay. That’s three clean sheets from three possible fixtures. Before Forster returned, we kept three clean sheets in our previous 17.
Whilst the six-foot-seven-inch shot-stopper has not been pushed into any hard work yet, his influence is clear to see. He’s installed that much-needed confidence back into our defence and allowed us to once again play out from the back.
As for competition, a goal-shy Crystal Palace are falling down the table, Everton’s inability to defend completely undoes the hard work of their frontline, Stoke simply don’t hit the back of that big white thing enough and Swansea have found themselves in a surprising battle for Premier League survival. At this moment in time, It looks to be a four horse race between Manchester United, West Ham, Liverpool and Southampton for European football.
In reality however, Southampton will only achieve Europa League qualification through the triumph of two already European qualified teams in the FA cup and Capital One Cup. Never the less, it would require us to finish somewhere in the top seven spaces; what an incredible turnaround that would be given Southampton’s poor early season form.
Yes, it’s a big ask. Yes, we will be relying on the work of others and yes, our form may well collapse over the next 15 games. However, we’ve all followed the Premier League and Southampton far too long to know that the unpredictable is rather predictable.