THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Southampton v Sunderland, 3pm

icon saintsprem24 August ~ Southampton's first home match of the new season follows on from last Saturday's 1-0 victory at West Brom. The three points that came courtesy of Rickie Lambert's late penalty was their first Premier League opening day success since 1999 – last season it took five matches for them to secure their first point. The visit of Sunderland to St Mary's therefore provides the perfect opportunity for everything to go pear-shaped.

Executive chairman Nicola Cortese has shown his ambitions for the club by sanctioning what is easily the largest-ever spending spree seen in these parts. The signings of Croatian international centre-back Dejan Lovren from Lyon and Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama from Celtic – two players who featured in last season's Champions League – were as impressive as they were unprecedented. This week's acquisition of Pablo Osvaldo, who played for manager Mauricio Pochettino at Espanyol, is a further indication that the target this season will be more than simply preserving top-flight status.
 
It might also have caught the eye that Pochettino selected three home-grown 18-year-olds to start at The Hawthorns, including debutant right-back Calum Chambers. Skipper Adam Lallana completed a quartet of players who came through the ranks, bringing Cortese's vision of a team 50 per cent home-produced closer to reality. And then there was the man of the moment, Lambert, who scored the only goal of the match three days after bagging England's winner two minutes into his international debut. One hopes that there are chapters still to be written in the remarkable and cockle-warming story of the Saints' No 7.

The visitors have adopted what to outsiders looks like a go-for-broke policy, splashing out on a range of players with plenty of pedigree but no Premier League experience. If they fail to gel, it could prove to be one expensive mistake. But the ride is bound to be interesting and a welcome change from the inexplicable torpor of Martin O'Neill's ill-fated reign.
 
From facing a string of tough early fixtures a year ago, Saints' programme for the first two months of 2013-14 is giving rise to hopes that the side can establish its credentials as challengers for Europe, rather than playing catch-up. A strong home record will undoubtedly be key to this – but today's visitors won the corresponding fixture last season. Tim Springett

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