The season starts now – that was the message emanating from the Saints camp in the aftermath of their 6-1 defeat at Arsenal last weekend.
From the manager to the players, it was a phrase that echoed around the corridors of the Emirates Stadium following the full-time whistle.
So, when the clock strikes 3pm this afternoon, Nigel Adkins ’ side will get their Premier League campaign
underway for a second time, as they host Aston Villa at St Mary’s.
“It’s a game that we’ve obviously got to go and win,” said Adkins in the immediate aftermath of last Saturday’s loss.
While that was probably more of a throwaway comment than an admission that game five of the season falls into the ‘must-win’ category, it still betrayed the pressure that is beginning to intensify
at St Mary’s.
Having suffered one false start already, Saints are clear that another must be avoided.
The Premier League begins in August – starting it in late September or, even worse, October is not advisable, especially when you’re a newcomer.
Develop too much of an uncomfortable relationship with the starting blocks in this particular race and the rest of the runners can soon move quickly out of sight.
So the post-Arsenal rhetoric is certainly understandable.
But, while it is a noble stance to publicly start renouncing their margin for error, Saints must be careful not to elevate the fixture against Villa into the be-all and end-all.
There is no guarantee that the contest with Paul Lambert’s improving side will yield a point, let alone three.
One similarly promising home fixture, against Wigan, has already slipped by, and Villa have the potential to be as equally streetwise and unforgiving as the Latics were.
Yes, these are the sort of games that Saints must regularly take points from if they are realistically to survive, but a fifth straight loss, while deeply concerning, would be no reason to publish
their Premier League obituary.
Points were always likely to be in scarce supply after the opening four games, and there are plenty left to be garnered.
Even Adkins, who normally insists that he never reads the newspapers, pointed out in the press room after the collapse at Arsenal how many journalists had written about the difficulty of their
opening four fixtures.
He is right that it has not gone unnoticed – and nor should it have done.
Wigan aside, the cruel nature of the early schedule is a perfectly valid explanation, at least in part, for the club’s current position in the league table.
Not many sides who Saints will realistically be competing with this season will take anything from their corresponding fixtures against Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal.
But Saints are making it clear that there is no more scope for excuses. Points must now be earned before this difficult start becomes a stigma.
Three of them today would not only inject a new shot of optimism into the campaign, but, given the embryonic nature of the league table, it might even move them out of the bottom three.
The season would then really be underway. Hopefully, this time, Saints can finally get themselves out of the starting blocks.