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Roll on Saints' Chelsea game!
SURELY that is now it?
Surely the win over Liverpool should put an end to any speculation as to whether Saints are good enough to stay in the Premier League?
Surely now Nicola Cortese can start counting all the extra millions that his club stand to receive next season from the new television deals?
Any neutral football supporters casting an eye at the top flight table this morning would answer ‘yes’ to the above questions.
Harry Redknapp’s QPR, Reading and Wigan – even after their late winner against Newcastle – now look the three likely candidates to drop into the Championship.
Cortese, pictured below, is seeing his biggest gamble paying off.
Sacking Nigel Adkins when Saints’ star was in the ascendancy and replacing him with a foreign coach with no previous experience in English football was a gamble, let us be under no illusions about that.
But it seems to have worked, and Saints should be dining at the top table of English football next season (with two Welsh clubs thrown in for good measure).
That would now be the view of most sensible neutrals.
But this is Saints we are talking about and lifelong fans of this most remarkable of clubs are used to being put through the emotional wrangler.
Saints supporters will only relax when safety is mathematically certain.
And being able to relax is a feeling many fans will tell you is somewhat alien to them.
The last few weeks, for example, have been typical Saints.
Beat Manchester City, the defending champions who had only lost twice in 25 league games prior to playing at St Mary’s.
Then lose at home to QPR, one of the worst top flight teams in recent history.
Then beat Liverpool, who might still be a pale shadow of the side that dominated English football in the late 70s and 80s but who arrived at St Mary’ with three successive league wins to their name and possessing the in-form Luis Suarez.
Saints managed to stop Suarez from scoring, something not many teams have managed recently and a feather in the cap for a Saints defence which has certainly had their critics this season.
Those with a handle on reality always thought Saints stood a very good chance of staying up this season, and for one big reason.
The squad has goals in it.
Even though they are 16th in the league, Saints are the eighth highest scorers in the section with 42 in 30 games.
Only the top seven clubs in the Premier League have scored more.
And it’s not just down to Rickie Lambert, though with 13 goals he will finish top of the Saints goal charts for a fourth successive season.
Those two players could hardly manage a goal between them when they played in the third division with Saints, and lest we forget that is fairly recent history.
Now Schneiderlin and Puncheon have the same amount of league goals as Norwich’s top scorer, Grant Holt, while they are only one behind the top scorers at West Ham (Kevin Nolan) and Stoke (Jon Walters).
Defensively, Saints have tightened up since the early weeks of the season.
They had to, otherwise they would almost have been down by now.
But they still have the fourth worst defensive record in the top flight, and the only clubs to have conceded more goals – Villa, Reading, Wigan – are all below them in the table.
That tells you where Pochettino really needs to focus on strengthening this summer.
He certainly needs to bolster a department that, for whatever reason, wasn’t adequately dealt with by Cortese and Adkins last year.
If he can do that, and Saints can keep hold of their goalscoring assets, who is to say the club can’t enjoy far more of the performances that accounted for Manchester City and Liverpool next season?
To beat City could be considered a fluke, to then beat an in-form Liverpool team suggests the squad has many big talents.
You cannot keep on putting good Saints wins down to off days for the opposition, as the national press will no doubt have you think.
Pochettino has only managed two wins in eight games so far, but what victories they have been!
The Argentine has proven he can outwit the big clubs tactically.
Roll on Chelsea at St Mary’s on March 30!