In Need Of Their Own Saint, Can Russell Martin Turn Things Around At Southampton?

Published on 30 September 2023 at 13:00

Even after the departure of James Ward-Prowse and a number of senior defenders back in the Summer transfer window, many fans and neutrals would have predicted Southampton to bounce straight back up following their relegation from the Premier League last season. Unlike fellow relegated side Leicester, it's difficult to tell if the Saints will be marching back into the top flight so easily, and more and more fingers being pointed at manager Russell Martin when things don't look so positive...


After their crunch clash with Leeds, who were enjoying a far more comfortable return to the Championship after they too were demoted to the second division, Southampton have 4 wins, 1 draw, and 4 losses from their opening 8 league games. Such results included needing a 97th minute penalty to draw 4-4 at home to Norwich, a 5-0 demolition at the hands of Tony Mowbray's impressive youthful Sunderland side, and a 2-1 defeat away to a Middlesbrough team who themselves are looking likely to be embroiled in a relegation battle (in what was the North East's first win of the campaign). 


At a first glance, this Southampton squad should be wiping the floor with much of the Championship and should be contesting with the bottom half of the current Premier League table. Kyle Walker-Peters, Carlos Alcaraz and Stuart Armstrong stand as amongst the Championship's best, and the likes of Ross Stewart and Adam Armstrong both boast immense experience and reputations as prolific goalscoers within the football league. Unfortunately, the game is played on grass rather than on paper, and something isn't quite clicking with this Southampton side as it should be.


Martin has clearly implemented a positive philosophy and playstyle into his Southampton side: a conservative passing approach which even broke records on the opening weekend of the season for successful first-half passes. Heavily inspired by Pep Guardiola and his exploits at Barcelona and Manchester, tactics surrounding dominating possession may often be derided as boring, but prove incredibly effective. 


Read More: Where Does Huddersfield Go After Neil Warnock's Departure And Darren Moore's Appointment?


Martin has been dealt a harsh hand as a result of previous managers' and the club's transfer decisions which haven't panned out as well as hoped. Gavin Bazunu in particular looked to be a coup from Manchester City's academy, but apart from one stellar performance, coincidentally against his former club in last season's Carabao Cup, the £12m fee on an unproven keeper has proven to be a terrible gamble. 


The weight of expectation has hung heavily on Martin's shoulders since his arrival on the South Coast. Two midtable finishes were his results at Swansea, with his most notable 'feat' being an unprecedented league double in the South Wales derby over Cardiff City. However, few are denying the positive atmosphere and environment Martin himself has identified at the club. So what more can the 37-year-old and his side do to turn their Championship season around and have them back in the conversation for promotion?


Thankfully for both parties, at the time of publication, Southampton will have already faced some of the Championship's favourites to win the title in Leicester, Leeds and Ipswich, avoiding a heavy defeat to the latter and even beating Leeds. Already being out of the Carabao Cup could prove to be a blessing, like it looks to be for fellow midtable side Huddersfield, and upcoming fixtures against relegation candidates Stoke and Rotherham can be the catalyst to truly bring life Southampton's dormant season so far!


Today's Leeds game has shown signs of it, and many have noted that once Martin finally gets his Southampton side to click, many can expect to see the Saints surge up the Championship table, what do you think?


By Jaspar Shepherdson

(@jasparshepmedia on Instagram and X/Twitter)

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