GIVEN how much Pool could do with the points tomorrow, Southampton are pretty much the worst team to be facing.
Nigel Adkins’ men are flying high at the top of the Championship, unbeaten in 12 games, and arriving at Bloomfield Road on the back of four straight victories over Doncaster, Hull, Millwall and Barnsley. Oh dear.
Even Saints rivals are giving up hope of catching them. Take West Ham boss Sam Allardyce. “I think the title has gone now. I can’t see Southampton losing three or four on the trot for us to make up those points,” said the under-pressure West Ham boss, briefly breaking off from criticising his own fans about a lack of support.
“We’ve slipped up, they haven’t, and credit to them because they have been there all season.”
Southampton’s success has been built on the 24 goals of Rickie Lambert (we won’t mention the fact that Blackpool let him go at the start of his career because they didn’t think he’d make it) and the attacking prowess of Adam Lallana. Since January, they have also had extra firepower in the form of Billy Sharp – signed for £2m from Doncaster.
On top of that there are the likes of powerful Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin and Chelsea graduate Jack Cork in the midfield; Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld (contenders for best centre-half pairing in the division); and the experienced and hugely reliable keeper Kelvin Davis.
Adkins has a fine side which, amid rising excitement in the Southampton area, is staring promotion to the Premier League in the face.
Not that you’d know it from the manager’s demeanour. “There are seven games to go,” Adkins said. “We’ve just had a very good week and got three good wins but what we’ll do now is recover ourselves and get ready for the next one.”
For all their natural talent, what Southampton do very well is graft. They have a high work-rate and close down quickly, which is something frontman Sharp admits he had to get used to.
“That’s why this team is top of the league,” said the 26-year-old, who, after a spell on the bench following his January move, finally got his Saints career up and running by bagging both goals in last week’s win over Doncaster.
“Every single player at Southampton works a lot harder than the rest of the league, and I had to sharpen my game up that side.”
Adkins agrees. “We’ve got good players at Southampton and they all work extremely hard,” the boss added.
“As I’ve underlined on several occasions it’s not about one player, it’s about the whole team contributing.
“It’s what we worked very hard to bring in and we’ve got good players here who graft for each other.”
Southampton have the Championship’s top home record – a superb 15 wins and three draws from 20 games. Away they are more vulnerable, but their eight wins on the road is still two better than Pool – and only West Ham, Reading and Middlesbrough have more.