SAINTS must steer clear of defeat against Aston Villa this weekend if they are to avoid equalling their worst ever start to a season.

Nigel Adkins ’ side have lost their opening four matches of the Premier League campaign, and on Saturday will be bidding to avoid a fifth straight beating.

Since joining the Football League in 1920, only once have they ever opened up with five consecutive losses – in the 1998/99 season.

Back then, with Dave Jones as manager, Saints recovered to finish 17th and celebrate another “Great Escape”.

Francis Benali was a member of that team, and is confident the current squad will also overcome their frustrating start.

“We were traditionally fairly slow starters,” he said. “It’s disappointing when you’re not getting results and early points on the board, but by no means is it the end.

“You have got to maintain that mental toughness, resilience and belief in yourselves.

“There was a tag line we used to use, which was ‘the spirit of Southampton ’, which included the fans and everyone who pulled behind the team. “I honestly believe that support we had helped keep us up on those occasions.

“It has been evident the past few seasons the spirit that the current team have got.

“It’s a new test for them now, and they will have to show their resilience, mental toughness and strength.

“I have every confidence they will do that and will turn things round.

“I have seen a lot already this season that is very encouraging and they will be more than fine to hold their own in the Premier League .”

Saints’ first five games in 1998/99 were considerably less daunting than the fixtures Nigel Adkins’ men have had to endure.

Liverpool, Charlton, Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Newcastle were the club’s conquerors back then.

This term, Saints have suffered defeats to Manchester City, Wigan, Manchester United and Arsenal.

The club are no strangers to bad starts, though, and if anything have become specialists at overcoming them.

Four times since 1920 they have begun campaigns with four straight defeats, and they have never once been relegated in those seasons.

As well as the 1998/99 Premier League campaign, they also started with four losses in 1925/26, 1927/28 and 1938/39 – all in the old division two.

And those aren’t the only nightmare openings.

In 1993/94, Saints lost eight of their first nine matches, but recovered to finish 18th in the 22-team Premier League.

Even more amazingly, they stayed up in 1969/70 despite winning just two of their opening 25 top-flight matches.

Daily Echo: Saints' worst Premier League starts