23 January ~ Southampton host Leicester City tonight in their first home match since December 29, when they were beaten by Bristol City in their first defeat at St Mary’s for over a year. From looking unstoppable in their quest for a second successive promotion, Southampton currently find themselves three points behind the new leaders West Ham. Victory this evening will put them back on top on goal difference. Prior to last Saturday’s 3-0 win at Nottingham Forest, Southampton had picked up only eight points from as many Championship matches. On the back of such a poor run of form it was surprising they continued to lead the table up until Saturday.
The Southampton team has been somewhat depleted of late – Richard Chaplow’s absence through injury has been particularly keenly felt – and this has served to highlight the thinness of the squad. Before the transfer window opened at the start of the month, manager Nigel Adkins had added only two players to the first-team squad since promotion from League One. One of those, Jos Hooiveld, might not have joined were it not for Dan Seabourne’s absence, while left-back Danny Fox plays in a position that was fairly well covered.
Two new players have come in during the transfer window. The registration of the Japanese forward Tadanari Lee – scorer of the decisive goal in the 2011 Asian Cup final – is still not complete. And 22-year-old Spanish midfielder Yago Falque has been signed on loan from Spurs, who have bought him permanently after his loan from Juventus. Most supporters expect further activity before the window closes.
Leicester’s expensively-assembled squad has flattered to deceive for much of the season, despite inflicting Saints’ first defeat this season back in August. The Leicester manager Nigel Pearson can expect a warm reception tonight. He was appointed boss at St Mary’s in February 2008, when the team were in freefall towards League One. Pearson made some astute loan signings and steered Saints to safety – at the expense of Leicester. But one of Rupert Lowe’s first acts as returning chairman was to prove that old habits die hard and send him on his way. The general consensus in Southampton was that Pearson should have stayed. But his efforts were recognised elsewhere as Leicester correctly saw him as the man to lead them to a quick promotion back to the Championship.
Tonight’s match is the first of two successive home games for Southampton, with Cardiff visiting next Tuesday. By the time that match is finished, Saints fans will hope to have seen statements of intent both on and off the field that the club is determined to press on for promotion to the Premier League. Tim Springett