Saints fans wondering how they should greet Alan Pardew should keep in mind they might not be facing Alan Pardew this Sunday without Alan Pardew.

It’s always hard to predict the welcome that returning managers and players will get.

But if anybody deserves to very warmly welcomed, then it’s Pardew.

Quite simply Saints might not be back in the Premier League were it not for him.

His time in charge might have been relatively short, but the signings he made and the changes he instigated laid the pathway for Nigel Adkins to forge ahead.

When Pardew was appointed Saints manager in July 2009 he inherited a rag bag squad, full of self-doubt and angst having just been relegated from the Championship and having had the experience of going through an uncertain administration.

His job was a tough one.

Speaking to Pardew in those early days was enlightening.

Whilst many spoke of potential signings, formations and line-ups, Pardew focussed much more on something hugely important – restoring a winning mentality to the club.

He saw a group of players, a club even, that was browbeaten, battered and bruised by a tough and cruel period in its history.

That mindset can be very hard to break, even with new signings.

So for Pardew, a winner as a player and manager, it was about turning that around.

His approach was always considered.

The squad had mixed feelings about whether they particularly liked him or not m– but, boy, did they respect him.

And as a football manager, that is all you need.

The early weeks of his time in charge were testing.

Due to the timing of the Markus Liebherr takeover he had little pre-season to speak of, little room to change too much or bring in many new faces.

So Saints flew head first into the 2009/10 League 1 season with Pardew battling to turn it around as he went.

Anybody who was unfortunate enough to see the early-season draw at Stockport will know how painful a process it was.

It was made even harder by the ten point dedication which meant Saints remained rooted towards the bottom for a long time while they found the right formula.

But, slowly but surely, he did turn it around.

That winning mentality was starting to spread through the club, through the manager, always tough and straight with the players, feeding it down through the dressing room.

As the season wore on, Saints hit their stride.

In such a short space of time Pardew had transformed Saints from a club who could barely remember how to win to a club who never thought they would ever lose.

The season culminated gloriously, Saints finishing just outside the play-offs despite that hefty points loss and inevitably slow start, and winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley, a wonderful day out and the epitome of the new upbeat attitude to life at St Mary’s.

Of course, a large part of that success, and his tremendous Saints legacy, were the players who Padrew signed.

Rickie Lambert, Dan Harding, Dean Hammond, Jose Fonte, Radhi Jaidi, Lee Barnard, Jason Puncheon, Danny Butterfield, Frazer Richardson, David Connolly.

These were the backbone of a team that Adkins would inherit, and largely leave unchanged for two seasons, who fired Saints to back-to-back promotions.

Pardew had built a team that any manager worth his salt should have got out of League One.

Adkins went one better with largely the same squad and got them into the top flight.

Only now is the team Adkins is fielding starting to look entirely his own rather than Pardew’s.

Saints fans should reflect just how much of their incredible journey they owe to Pardew.

He deserves the very warmest of welcomes.