TICK FOLLOWS tock follows tick follows tock.
The summer lull has teased and tortured many a supporter as the nation’s footballing fraternity is forced to go cold turkey once again.
But now we’re there.
Back in stripes, Saints are finally about to re-emerge stage left to the Championship.
England’s second tier may not be the bright lights of Broadway that many crave in the form of the Premier League, but it gives Nigel Adkins’ men the opportunity to be rediscovered as a sizeable force in the game.
Of course, unlike the last two years, we’re no longer one of the big boys on the block.
There are plenty of teams in what used to be known as Division Two whose lofty ambitions match or even exceed our own.
Sven Goran-Eriksson’s Leicester, for example are very serious about getting out of the second tier.
Splashing £5m on former Saints defender Matt Mills shows how serious they are, and acts as a reminder to Saints that this is a world away from League One.
It would appear the Championship has become the oft-talked about Premier League Two.
Big teams with big players make up this division. Kevin Nolan, Shane Long, Matt Taylor, Liam Lawrence, Michael Johnson – all players that would be able to command a place many top flight teams.
Saints have their work cut out.
But that’s not to say Southampton are being left behind.
It would be stupid to give a definitive appraisal after a 50-minute friendly appearance, but Steve De Ridder has certainly turned a few heads on the wing and sounds a decent prospect for the coming season.
With Puncheon being left out in the cold and Alex Chamberlain angling for a move, an extra winger could still be needed however.
Meanwhile, we all know about Jack Cork and the assured, classy performances he can bring to the table.
His signing is a shrewd bit of business and makes the central midfield place in Adkins’ side ultra competitive, for Schneiderlin, Chaplow and Hammond.
The problem facing the squad is a depth in certain positions.
The front four – Lambert, Connolly, Barnard and Guly – were fantastic at League One level, but with the exception of Connolly – whose talent seems to defy his growing years – it a unit untested at this level.
I have confidence the forwards will be able to deliver in the Championship, but the unknown should always be a concern.
We probably still need an extra central defender as a long term replacement for Jaidi, but beyond that the squad seems capable of competing in this league.
Notions of ‘doing a Norwich’ are fanciful, but a mid-table finish should be the minimum aim – with one important caveat.
We must beat Portsmouth.
This is the game we all looked for the moment the fixtures came out.
This is our chance to reassert ourselves again as the top club on the south coast.
If League One Saints were capable of hammering Premier League Pompey for 60 minutes before succumbing to the pace of players they couldn’t afford, the prospect now we’re on an even keel is mouthwatering.
Reassert our dominance and provide a platform to move on up.
That is the goal for the season.
I have every confidence Saints can achieve it.