Southampton keeping watch on Manchester City’s Bobby Duncan

Southampton are reportedly interested in Manchester City youngster Bobby Duncan, who looks set to leave City in the near future.

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The report from The Times claims that Southampton aren’t alone in their pursuit of the 16-year-old, however, with both Arsenal and Tottenham keeping a close eye on the front-man.

After losing Jadon Sancho to Borussia Dortmund only earlier this summer, Manchester City now risk losing yet another one of their highly rated stars; one can only assume that such decisions are made in the pursuit of first-team opportunities, given the frightening squad depth at City.

Duncan, who is a cousin of Steven Gerrard, showed his talent for England’s U17’s only last week, scoring a late winner to beat Portugal 3-2 after initially going 2-0 down.

Duncan is yet to sign a professional contract, but City hope to pen the youngster down on a new deal before his 17th birthday next summer.

It’s been awhile since Southampton had a young English forward leading their front-line, and with Sam Gallagher’s career stalling at Birmingham, on top of Ryan Seager edging closer to 22-years-old, this signing could prove to be a smart investment for the club.

It must be noted, however, that City will be entitled to receive compensation should Duncan leave.

Mauricio Pellegrino: are we right to be concerned?

As if firing blank for the fifth home game this season couldn’t possibly be frustrating enough, Southampton put the cherry on the cake last weekend by allowing Sam Vokes, a self-confessed Southampton fan, to snatch a late winner. The past week has been a tough one for Mauricio Pellegrino.

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But whilst these results will certainly be worrying the Argentine boss, his greatest worry should be losing the faith of the fans. Something that (if it hasn’t happened already) appears to be waiting around the corner of our next poor result.  

To neutral fans such a suggestion may be seen as premature or indicative of the modern game, and I can certainly understand that. But that’s a view from the outside looking in, and having watched Southampton week in, week out this season, there’s a number of issues that simply have to be addressed for the future of our club.

Just two seasons ago St Mary’s used to be a place of inspiration, where Southampton promised to give just about every and any challenger a true test. We weren’t a free-scoring phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination, but we had our own style and weren’t afraid to impose that on any opponent that made the trip down South.

As we know all too well, however, this is no longer the case. That identity has vanished, and ever since Southampton have been left in what feels like a transitional period.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem; except I’m not quite convinced we know what we’re transitioning into.

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Despite having over four months to install his own beliefs and ideologies into our players, I’m still none the wiser as to what Pellegrino is striving for.

Pellegrino arrived at the club claiming “with the quality we have we can play exciting, attacking football, taking the game to our opponents by playing a high-intensity game.”

But as time passes, this statement is growing increasingly untrue.

I know that managers need time to implement their own ideas and systems, and therefore I understand that the results won’t come instantly. Reforming the identity and style of a squad certainly isn’t an overnight job.  

However, It’s clear as daylight to see that the attacking intent Pellegrino promised just simply isn’t drilled inside our players. Once brave in the final third and willing to take risks, our frontline now fears the sight of goal, growing more and more paranoid as they cautiously enter the box.

On the odd chance that our players do take up a promising position in and around the area, it’s so often wasted as they seemingly begin to fret about their defensive duties and team shape. And whilst this may be the way Pellegrino liked to operate at Alaves or any of his former clubs, it isn’t what he was employed to do, and it certainly isn’t what he promised the fans.

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But what is it that’s caused us Southampton fans to lose faith so quickly in Pellegrino, especially compared to Claude Puel?

Whilst the Frenchman’s time on the South Coast didn’t prove to be successful, there was a clearly identifiable plan in place. There was a vision and at the very least we could see what Puel was striving for. We understood that his system would take time, and we bought into the potential of that.

But no identity, no entertainment, and no results? How can we as fans be expected to invest into that?

An effective method of judging a manager’s work is to identify players that have flourished or surpassed expectations under his management, and sadly, this is yet another worrying sign from Pellegrino.

Under Puel, there were a number of players that truly came into their own; Maya Yoshida and Oriol Romeu had their best seasons in a red and white shirt, Cedric Soares finally cemented his place in the starting XI, Nathan Redmond had his greatest goalscoring season to date, and Jack Stephens covered superbly for the injured Virgil Van Dijk.

As for Pellegrino, the only player that I’ve seen perform at a consistently high level this season is Mario Lemina. And even then, I’d say much of that has been down to individual quality and flair, rather than work on the training ground.

The bottom line, however, is that Southampton and Mauricio Pellegrino need to act fact; not only for the safety of the Argentine’s job, but also for the future of our club.

A future that at this moment in time, is failing to shine bright like seasons gone by.

Fraser Forster: When do we say enough is enough?

Southampton Football Club boast a defence that’s rife with quality, depth and the versatitlity to operate in a number of tactical systems; in fact, I’d go as for to say that outside the Premier League’s elite top six clubs, you’ll be hard challenged to find a better backline than the side currently at Mauricio Pellegrino’s disposal.

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But as I so painfully had to once again realise last weekend, there’s still one area of our defence that’s failing to match the high standards set by others within our squad.

I’m of course talking about the demise of Fraser Forster…

Now at this point I must reiterate that Forster appears to be a true professional, a fantastic character inside the club, and an all-round good guy judging by comments from his team-mates.

But for as long as we continue to field a goalkeeper that’s slow on his feet and seemingly indecisive with any shot placed on target, Southampton remain helpless and vulnerable to conceding sloppy goals; a feature of Forster’s play that’s become a serious problem over the past 18 months.

This season alone mistakes against Newcastle and Brighton have already cost Southampton a potential four points, whilst his tendency to palm the ball into the oppositions frontman has also punished us twice; Romelu Lukaku and Chicharito being the fortunate goal-scorers.

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Rolling back to Glenn Murray’s equaliser on Sunday, I remember seeing a fair amount of criticism toward Cedric Soares after the fullback was bullied in his tussle for the ball, and I can understand that.

It was embarrassing defending from our backline to leave Brighton’s biggest goal threat with our smallest defender, but that was the only troubling shot Forster faced on target throughout the entire 90 minutes.

With a tight margin of just one goal in the Premier League you need your keeper to step up with efforts like Murray’s, and surprise surprise, Forster failed to do so.  

The best goalkeepers in the Premier League step up for their team when they’re called upon, and to be quite honest with you, I’d be stumped if you asked me just how often Forster has “stepped up” over the past year.

The same keeper that used to clatter players to claim crosses and throw his body on the line for a clean sheet, now appears scared under the spotlight and unaware of his physical strengths.

Given this shaky start to the 2017/18 campaign, It’s also worth noting that Forster had the second lowest save percentage among regular PL goalkeepers last season. Only Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo recorded a lower percentage.

What makes this form so worrying however, is our complete and utter shortage of options in what we can possibly do next. Time and time again Forster has fallen short over the past 18 months and failed to warrant a starting place, yet when the following fixture comes around, he’s instantly placed back between the sticks.

It’s all well and good saying that he deserves to be dropped, but for who? And where do we go from there?

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It seems that neither Pellegrino or Dave Watson trust Alex McCarthy to step up, and as a result, Forster’s place in the lineup has become somewhat untouchable. This is dangerous territory for a goalkeeper, as more often than not, this is when complaceny begins to creep in on a weekly basis.

During a summer transfer window when fans were crying out for a new number one or at the very least some competition, the board instead opted to reward Forster with a new contract.

And whilst at the time that decision could have been seen as an act of faith to motivate Forster, it now feels as if the board have rewarded mediocrity, and consequently sent Forster down a path of complacency.

If this same form was replicated by a Southampton centre-back or central midfielder over a time frame of 18 months, reinforcements would no doubt be shipped in; so why’s Forster exempt from such treatment?

Criticism toward the England International can’t be put down to “poor form” or a “lack of confidence” anymore, as this is no longer a short term problem that simply needs a quick fix.

Persisting with Forster beyond this next transfer window is becoming an increasingly worrying gamble to take, and I’m convinced that if the board opt to do just that, we’ll once again find ourselves discussing his shortcomings this same time next season.

Preview: Southampton vs West Brom

After Southampton failed to take yet another opportunity to build momentum last weekend, Maurico Pellegrino will be desperate for all three points and an entertaining showing at St Mary’s tomorrow. 

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Alongside Pellegrino in the dugout, however, will be Tony Pulis – a man that gets his kicks through clean sheets and dogged defensive performances both home and away. But to find out more about what we can expect from The Baggies tomorrow, I spoke to Alex Newton – a West Brom fan and columnist for The Daily Mail.

How would you summarise your season so far?

It hasn’t been fantastic. From an outside view, you may look at Albion being mid-table and think they’re having a half decent season. The problem is we’ve already played five of the bottom seven sides in the league and have a tough run of fixtures coming up. We’ve thrown three leads away in the final 20 minutes of games already this season which could have seen us be 4th in the table as it stands.

Who do you expect to be your key man this year?

Jonny Evans. After all the transfer talk surrounding him, the skipper decided to stay, and he now has to get his head down and focus on his football. Not only is he a brilliant defender he can organise the entire back line. When Evans plays well we usually get a result.

What would make for a successful season?

Realistically we know top half would be an excellent achievement for the club. With us being in the Premier League for nearly a decade we shouldn’t have to worry about the threat of relegation. It would be great to have a decent run in the FA Cup if we find ourselves mid-table in the league come January.

How have the West Brom fans taken to former Saint, Jay Rodriguez?

Jay’s a model professional which will always go down well at The Hawthorns. He hit the ground running early but has found it difficult in the last few weeks. That being said the fans appreciate his effort upfront and you can see he will always try hard for the team.

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How do teams get the most joy out of your defence?

Pace and trickery on the wings always seem to cause us trouble. It’s clear to see that we’re a physical side so the majority of the time we’re good at defending set pieces. If you can stretch our defense out of position with pace, you’ll usually find success.

You’re stranded on a desert island and can only be joined by one Baggies player; who’s it going to be?

Great question! Despite the language barrier, I’d pick Claudio Yacob. He’s always in the background of player’s photos smiling or causing mischief. I reckon he’d make the time go quickly.

Which Southampton player would you take to join your side?

I’ve always liked Nathan Redmond. He’s quick direct, and I think he’d flourish in a team like West Brom on the opposite wing to Matt Phillips.

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As an outsider looking in, which Baggies player would help to improve Pellegrino’s Saints most?

This is a tricky question as you struggle to score goals like ourselves, but you also let in a fair few easy ones. Nacer Chadli playing in the ten behind your striker(s) could open a lot of opportunities for you I reckon. Failing that I’ve seen a lot of your fans moan about your goalkeeper so maybe Ben Foster too.

And finally, what do you think the score will be this Saturday?

1-1. Rodriguez and Gabiadini the scorers.

Southampton keeping tabs on Barcelona’s Paco Alcacer

According to the latest reports from The Guardian, Southampton will look to bolster their frontline this January with the services of Paco Alcacer.

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It’s been stated that Alcacer’s dream move to the Camp Nou hasn’t gone to plan, with the 24-year-old growing increasingly frustrated at his lack of game-time.

Southampton aren’t the only club showing an interest in the Spanish International however, with both Celta Viga and Lille keeping a close watch on the forward too.

But whilst being on the books at Barca will most certainly tempt fans (on top of his fine goalscoring record at Valencia) is this the transfer that Southampton need to solve their troubles in front of goal?

To cut a long explanation short, I’m not entirely convinced this is the type of player that we should be hunting for.

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Alcacer’s stats and reputation would suggest that he can add the extra dimension in attack that Southampton so desperately need, but in my view, he would simply be another body in our crowded search for a solution.

Alcacer typically operates best as a lone forward in either one of a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, aiming largely to wreak havoc from inside the box, using his fine movement to unlock the oppositions defence.

To compensate for Alcacer, Gabbiadini would have to drop deeper or wider in the attack, and this is something that he’s openly spoken out against in his past at Napoli.

A two-pronged partnership is also ruled out in my eyes, as both players regularly look to take up the same areas inside the box. The whole objective of playing a partnership is to allow both players to compliment each other’s strengths, but in the case of Gabbiadini and Alcacer, the duo would be all too similar.

The largest issue regarding Southampton’s attack doesn’t lie with the frontman, it lies with those surrounding him. Blistering pace, unpredictability and direct runs at the defence are three qualities our attack has so sorely missed over the past 12 months. Coincidently this is around the same time that Southampton lost Sadio Mane; a player our club have clearly failed to replace since his departure.

With all things considered, I hope for our sake that Alcacer is an option that Southampton choose not to pursue; the Spaniard is a classy player who will prove to be a fantastic asset for the right side, but this is money that needs to be spent on solving the real issue in our frontline.

Theo Walcott: a return to the South coast?

According to the latest reports from The Express, Southampton are willing to spend up to £15M to form a reunion with Theo Walcott this January.

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The article states that Arsenal are looking to reshape their squad over the next two transfer windows, and as a result, Walcott will be free to search for a new club.

But is this just a typical transfer rumour created by putting two and two together? Or could this deal be exactly what Southampton need at this moment in time?

As I stated (screamed) on numerous occasions prior to the 2017/18 season kicking off, Southampton desperately needed a quick goalscoring winger. The failure to replace Sadio Mane’s output from the season before was criminal – not only were the fans starved of entertaining football, but it could also be argued that Claude Puel lost his job as a result of the transfer too.

In the form of Theo Walcott however, numerous boxes that have been left unticked since Mane’s departure, could potentially be crossed through.

Regardless of all the stick that Walcott’s had thrown his way over the past two seasons, he continues to ask questions of the defence with his blistering pace, and he still has an eye for goal – two things our side have so sorely missed in recent times.

Even last season when many were writing him off, the 28-year-old managed to record 10 Premier League goals and find the back of the net four times in the Champions League. And a year prior to this whilst battling injury, he maintained an impressive strike rate whenever an opportunity was handed his way; scoring seven goals in just 18 Premier League and Champions League starts.

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Whilst that may not be good enough for some at a club of Arsenal’s stature, numbers like these would have been a very welcome addition to Southampton’s squad last season. Especially when you consider that we finished our League campaign with Nathan Redmond as top goalscorer (7).

A player that’s shown his value in the Champions League would no doubt be a valuable asset in our hunt for Europa League football.

However, there are of course some potential negatives to this deal, or at least some points to consider.

Whilst this signing would follow Southampton’s recent trend of signing out of favour players from “big clubs”, Walcott would surely hold very little sell-on value.

Going off the assumption that he signs a four year deal and decides to see three of those years out, we’d be flogging him on at the age of 31 years old; it’s safe to say that financial profit wouldn’t be the reason for chasing Walcott’s signature.

On top of this, Walcott’s overall game has often been criticised at Arsenal due to his over-reliance on his pace in the final third. He plays a very simple and often repetitive game of looking to get in behind, lacking the versatility to ask the defence different types of questions.

Despite this, there’s a saying that goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and I can’t help but feel this is applicable to Walcott’s style of play. The same attacking approach that Walcott frustratingly applies at Arsenal, could be the same approach that Southampton so desperately need in their frontline.

The bottom line however is that Southampton Football Club need goals, and at this moment in time I’m not convinced we’re in the position to roll the dice with another “could be” or “potentially” type signing.

We need someone that’s willing to charge at defences, get in behind, and above all else, take the chances that fall their way. With that considered, the acquisition of Walcott would be a welcome addition to the squad, and in terms of proven quality, would be as safe as we can possibly secure.

The latest twist in the Van Dijk tale

Just three days after making his much publicised return to the Southampton starting line-up, Virgil Van Dijk has once again managed to get his name plastered over all the largest news outlets.

The International break can be a painful and frustrating time as a football fan; not only because we’re often starved of entertainment, but also because of the endless stream of transfer focused news and gossip, that emanates from the various international camps.

Players back in their home country and away from their club’s press officer are often free to essentially speak with whoever they (or their agent) want, about whatever they (of their agent) want.

When asked about his future on the South Coast, Van Dijk responded “Halfway through the season, maybe we can see what’s possible” before going on to claim that he has “no regrets” about asking to leave the Saints.

In isolation, the quotes really aren’t that bad, and similar quotes have been made by plenty of players before whilst on International duty. However, add a little context and it’s understandable why these quotes have left so many Southampton fans angry with the Dutchman.

First and foremost, he’s continued to show almost no regard for our club. This behaviour is remarkably insensitive and some would say immature – almost playground like – as he comments on an issue that should now be put to bed or at least filed away, and untouched until further action can actually be taken.

Secondly, after wearing our colours for a mere 90 minutes in a single fixture, Virgil has entertained questions regarding his future. I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping he’d focus primarily on helping us to put points on the board and keep clean sheets, before starting to vocalise dreaming about Champions League nights?

Let’s not forget that last weekend he got the nod over both Wesley Hoedt and Jack Stephens too, who had done nothing wrong to lose their place in the starting line-up.

We know that you want to leave Virgil. You’ve made it quite clear, and any possible suitors most certainly know that too, but at the moment (whilst employed by SFC) it would serve your cause better to use action on the pitch instead of words off of it.

So with that considered, what would have been wrong with simply deflecting the question?

Or even giving a generic “All I’m focused on is Southampton” PR answer?

I for one hate those dull as dishwater comments, but they are commonplace for a reason, and I can’t help but feel this situation is a prime example.

You want to leave? That’s fine. But at the very least respect the club that you signed a six year contract with, and show at least a drop of respect for the fans who backed you throughout your return from injury.

Luciano Vietto remains a target for Southampton this January

With little evidence suggesting that Southampton’s goalscoring woes will soon come to an end, reports of interest in Atletico Madrid’s, Luciano Vietto, have once again resurfaced.

According to numerous sources, Atletico Madrid are ready to cash in on Vietto this January, after his two-year spell with the club has failed to take either party forward.

The 23-year-old striker was considered to be a high priority transfer for Southampton last summer, but due to a situation outside of the club’s control, any hope of a potential move was soon ruled out.

The issue at hand was the complicated matter of resolving Diego Costa’s future, who had been banished from Antonio Conte’s Chelsea plans, and went AWOL to force a reunion with Diego Simeone.

When Southampton made their push for the Argentinian forward, it was late on in the window and a resolution to Costa’s situation seemed far from over – forcing Simeone to take no risks in waving goodbye to Vietto.

Since the window closed however, a deal has been struck between the two European giants, and Costa will now make his return to La Liga when the transfer window re-opens (January).

This is music to the ears of Les Reed and Mauricio Pellegrino, as the arrival of Costa will consequently make room for the departure of Vietto, who has since become surplus to requirements.

As for the qualities of the player himself, he seems to fit the Southampton transfer blueprint down to a T; he’s got time on his side, boasts serious technical ability, and is being poached from a European powerhouse (a common theme amongst recent Saints transfers).

During Vietto’s time in La Liga, he’s shown that he works best when playing just off another forward, using his close control, passing ability and illusive movement to ask questions of the oppositions defence.

In theory, I could imagine him deployed just behind Manolo Gabbiadini, being used to help battle the isolation our Italian forward is currently facing.

But whilst this looks like a tempting transfer and one that we would chase, I’m not sure if it’s exactly what we need. Whilst Vietto showed fine promise during his days at Villarreal, he’s since recorded just seven goals in his last 40 appearances for Atletico and Sevilla.

My only worry is that Southampton boast too many “maybe’s” and “what if’s” in their frontline at the minute, and they simply need a proven goalscorer – something Vietto can’t promise to be.

Fight and a physical presence has returned to Southampton’s spine

Whilst goalscoring woes have been the go-to talking point surrounding Southampton Football Club in recent weeks, it appears that many are failing to see the remarkable work being completed down the other end of the pitch.

I’m of course talking about the addition of Mario Lemina, and Wesley Hoedt.

Last season Claude Puel was forced into fielding a makeshift defensive midfielder alongside Oriol Romeu, whilst having to fight the fires of Virgil Van Dijk’s injury and Jose Fonte’s mid-season departure.

And whilst individuals such as Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens were consequently able to develop themselves as top flight defenders, we were undeniably prone to conceding sloppy goals, crumbling late on, and being bullied in the air.

With thanks to Mauricio Pellegrino, the boards investment and the infamous black box, however, Southampton have once again been able to forge a strong, physical and dependable defensive spine – a common feature of the most successful Southampton sides in recent Premier League seasons.  

Each of those sides were composed of two defensive midfielders that can impose themselves on the opposition off the ball, whilst still holding the technical ability to cooly maintain possession and effectively break from back to front. Similarly the centre-backs must have an aerial presence and be able to work the opposition’s midfield out of shape, whilst also having the eye to execute an inch perfect diagonal ball (see Toby Alderweireld, Virgil Van Dijk, and now Hoedt).

With the signings of Lemina and Hoedt, Southampton have the potential to replicate that same spine.

Lemina has so far proven himself to be the athletic box to box that everyone was hoping for, and a whole lot more. He’s intelligent in possession, boasts quick feet, a fantastic defensive work rate, and upper body strength that’s incomparable to others his size. Over the past 12 months, Southampton have been rightfully criticized for lackluster play in their midfield, with players all too often turning toward the safe option. Lemina, however, is quite the opposite, with his style largely revolving around bringing a high intensity to the game both on and off the ball.

It seems that Romeu has finally found himself a midfielder partner that he can rely on week in, week out…

Then we come to Wesley Hoedt, who’s added the muscle and aerial presence that our backline severely lacked during Van Dijk’s absence. Yoshida and Stephens improved ten fold last season in terms of their defensive awareness and distribution of the ball, but despite this, they still held the tendency to miss out on those all-important aerial duels – an issue that no longer exists with Hoedt leading our backline.

At this moment in time, Southampton not only boast a supreme amount of quality both in front and at the heart of the defence, but also an abundance of options.

You have, Mario Lemina – the heartbeat of our midfield. Oriol Romeu – the anchor. Wesley Hoedt – the man mountain. Virgil Van Dijk – the complete defender. Maya Yoshida – the ideal backup. And even Jack Stephens – the clubs work in progress.

Here we have the personnel to effectively play numerous formations, apply great competition on fellow team-mates, and even approach fixtures in a number of different manners.

Southampton most certainly failed in their hunt for goals in the previous summer transfer window, but credit must be given for their seemingly impeccable defensive recruitment. If we’re going to continue struggling to score goals, we should at least be aiming to make the opposition do the same…

Loan report: Olufela Olomola

A number of Southampton’s academy graduates have been sent out on loan this season in desperate need of vital first team experience, but one youngster in particular has made their mark at their new club quicker than anybody else.

Whilst many academy graduates initially struggle to handle the physicality and competitive nature of the Football League, Olufela Olomola has appeared unfazed, kicking off his loan move with Yeovil Town in the finest of fashions.

After five League Two appearances, Olomola has already found the back of the net on four separate occasions, averaging a goal for every 93 minutes that he’s played. What’s even more impressive about this however, is that he’s managed to do this with just six attempts at goal – missing the target with just one attempt in green and white colours so far.

But believe it or not, I haven’t spent my last few Saturday’s keeping a close eye over Olomola and Yeovil Town. So rather than sitting here and rambling away about his fine form whilst out on loan, I decided to speak to Stephen D’Albiac – a sports writer at the Western Gazette and the Somerset Live.

How have the Yeovil fans taken to Olufela Olomola so far?

SD: So far, very well. Fela has made a great start and provided a constant attacking threat. He’s clearly a determined young player and his attitude has certainly endeared him to the supporters, along with the goals that he has added.

What does he bring to the side that you didn’t have before?

SD: He has helped Yeovil become an attacking threat, which is something that was lacking last season. He’s strong, direct and not afraid to run at defenders, and his pace and the way in which he has linked up with fellow attackers Francois Zoko and Otis Khan has been a real threat to the opposition.

What strengths has he shown?

SD: As before, he’s strong and direct, able to run past defenders and his finishing has been very good. He never stops running either which is a quality that any supporter likes.

What areas of his game still need work?

SD: There have been a couple of times during games this season where he has decided to go it alone when he should have picked passes out, but that is only a very minor criticism given what he has brought to the team so far.

Olomola’s loan deal ends in January; do you think the club should look to extend his stay?

SD: Absolutely, and I would go so far as to say it should be the club’s number one priority between now and January. I’m sure the club will try to extend his deal. They were stung in the loan market last season when they lost Ryan Hedges – who was equally impressive – to Barnsley in January and they will want to do everything they can to avoid a repeat of that. As long as Fela keeps scoring goals and continuing his development, I don’t see any reason why Southampton would not be happy to agree an extension.

And finally, have the fans conjured up a song for him yet?

SD: Not yet, but there’s still plenty of time! If he keeps banging in the goals then I’m sure he’ll get one.