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Adkins continues his Saints evolution
11:40am Monday 6th August 2012 in Sport
Pre-season campaigns are all about learning, and there were plenty of lessons for Saints to take from their 2-0 victory against Wolves at the weekend.
Off the field, there was a probably a bit of head scratching as to why the crowds at the home friendlies have been so sparse, given the excitement of Premier League promotion.
Arguably more importantly, on the pitch Nigel Adkins continues to fine tune ahead of the big kick-off which is now less than a fortnight away.
In terms of the crowd, which for this game was officially given as just under 4,000 – which proved looks can be deceiving as to the naked eye it looked at best half that – there are some pointers.
The first is that it is bucking the Saints trend, going back a great many years, to have so many pre-season friendlies at home.
Increased costs The Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup, Ajax, Wolves and Udinese, who arrive next Saturday, is an awful lot.
To be totally fair to Saints, pre-season is always a struggle for crowds with people away on holiday and all but the most fanatical happy to take a break from football for the Olympics , the cricket , something else altogether, until the real action starts.
Also, the increased costs of watching Saints in the Premier League has undoubtedly played a part.
The trick Saints may have missed is in their pricing, by charging a relatively decent amount – Wolves was the cheapest game at £15 for adults, £10 concessions and under-11s free with a paying adult.
Hampshire Cricket have proved for their game with Surrey later this month that people will come if you give them an incentive.
In their case, the CB40 game at The Ageas Bowl falls on the day Saints open their Premier League season at Man-chester City live on Sky.
They realised what that would do to their crowd and so gave tickets away for free.
They sold them out in no time at all.
From a business point of view, it is getting people through the door that will buy food and merchandise, hopefully inspire a new generation of fans who might not otherwise have come in, and give them reason to say they are embracing their community.
Saints have brought in about 10,000 for the Memorial Cup, 5,000 for Ajax and now 4,000 for Wolves.
The numbers from that might stack up, but there is the possibility that even with the euphoria of promotion they may not get a sold out stadium from the attendances of the four friendlies combined.
That seems a real shame.
However, the most important thing for many connected with the club will be preparations for things that take place when the players cross the white line.
That is what will define their pre-season this summer.
Make no mistake, there is a lot of work being done and it’s interesting to see it actually progress in front of your very eyes.
The new Saints formation is the major case in point.
It looks increasingly likely now that Nigel Adkins will, for the start of the season at least, leave behind the 4-4-2 that has helped the club to back-to-back promotions for a new 4-3-2-1 system.
Like all formations it is fluid, at times looking like a 4-3-3, more often like a 4-5-1.
But the evolution of it in pre-season and the improvement in the understanding of the players, clearly drilled by Adkins and his team in between the games, is clear.
Formations don’t win or lose matches, players do, but they certainly have a part to play.
There is no perfect formation out there, or everybody would be using it and would have done for years now.
But for every manager it is about finding the best way to utilise the players at his disposal.
And for Adkins there is the added problem of stepping up to the big time to face teams who boast some of the best footballers in the world.
No longer will Saints be the big boys, as they have found themselves in the last few years. It will be they who are the underdogs.
Cautious formation With that in mind, perhaps a more cautious formation is being thought of.
Saints do not want to be overrun, they do not want to get outnumbered in midfield, they do not want to be exposed out wide.
But the trick is to balance that with maintaining the ability to score goals and to get forward in numbers.
Adkins appears to have settled on what he believes is the best way to cope in the top flight. Now it is all about getting the players to understand it.
The key for Saints will be not to drop too deep, to get sucked in to having a back four on the edge of their own area with the midfield five just in front and the lone striker chasing about in his own half as the opposition pass the ball along their backline.
All right, it would make Saints hard to break down, but with the quality in the top flight the best teams will probably find a way on most occasions and it leaves Saints with few options when they do win the ball.
They are not helped by a lack of pace to counter attack or to quickly support the lone front man, and it’s clear how valuable it is from Nathaniel Clyne’s impressive pre-season forays forward from right back.