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Fan Focus: Southampton (A) - Saints To Go Marching On?

We asked London-based Rugby Union agent and lifelong Southampton fan Stuart Watkins to give me the lowdown on the Saints' season so far and what he predicts will happen on Saturday when they face the Black Cats.

Koeman has confounded critics with a fine start at Southampton
Koeman has confounded critics with a fine start at Southampton
Bryn Lennon

Have you been impressed with Ronald Koeman’s transition into the Premier League?

Stuart: It’s hard not to be really, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would have predicted such a good start to the season after so much change and uncertainty over the summer.  He clearly has the managerial skills and philosophy to help us build on all the hard work and progress made since we started making our way back up through the leagues.

Has Mauricio Pochettino’s footballing philosophy been kept in place or even improved upon?

Stuart: I would say Koeman has blended the great football of Pochettino’s time, with a slightly more direct style of play. This doesn’t detract from the fact we are still a great side to watch and I think many would argue it has made us even more effective.  We played most teams off the park last season, without winning the number of games we should have. Only time will tell whether we can turn those performances into wins and potentially finish even higher.

Your club were busy in the transfer market this summer – how do you rate the incoming players?

Stuart: So far, so good. Tadic is proving to be as effective as Lallana from what we’ve seen so far – a real class act. Pelle’s form has meant we’ve not missed Lambert’s presence and it was great to see him score on his Italy debut! Forster is an upgrade on Boruc and in Bertrand we have a proven young Premier League performer with international ambitions of his own. Add to that Mane, Gardos and Alderweireld and our squad looks to have real quality and depth. In Shane Long we got a taste of our own medicine in terms of cost, but he still brings qualities, experience and an attitude which goes a long way in the Premier League.

Did you fear for the future when the likes of Lallana, Shaw and Lambert moved on?

Stuart: Hand on heart - yes! There were so many rumours flying around about what was going on and who was next out the door, with very little hope being offered by the club at the time.  That said, with the money on the table and sentimentality of Rickie’s move, the club couldn’t really turn that down. Koeman coming in certainly settled the nerves and the rebuilding showed real ambition and intent. With hindsight, I’d have to say the club handled the whole situation admirably and financially we’re laughing.

Have the fans already connected with the new signings in the same way as they did with the lads who’ve left?

Stuart: It would be tough for us to connect in the same way as with Lambert and Lallana for obvious reasons.  One was our top goalscorer every season from League One to the Premier League, scored on his England debut, wore the famous number seven shirt and previously worked in a beetroot factory – fairytale stuff. The other spent his entire career with us up to that point, made his England debut and ended up as our captain in one of our most successful seasons ever. Pelle is fast become a fans’ favourite and with the others playing so well already, you can sense the excitement around watching those players perform.

Southampton had a fantastic start to the campaign – how far can you go realistically?

Stuart: The strength of the usual suspects, and the money they spend, will inevitable see us pushed out of the top four, but I think we’ll be in the mix to finish the highest of the next crop of clubs eyeing Europa League spots.

Which Saints stars should Gus Poyet most worry about come Saturday?

Stuart: Pelle seems to be a real confidence player and after scoring in an emotional international debut, he’ll have plenty of that ahead of this game. Tadic has the keys to unlock most defences and provides assists for fun. Clyne is probably the best right-back in the league right now. Wanyama also seems to be finally making the impact we know he can and could be a real force for us.

Sunderland have ex-Brighton players Will Buckley and Liam Bridcutt in the ranks, as well as a former Seagulls manager, so is there a bit of needle there at all?

Stuart: Not really. Poyet had a few choice words to say about us a few seasons ago, but we had a chuckle at that and waved to him from the promotion party bus!

Any Sunderland players that concern you going into the game?

Stuart: I think Sunderland’s inconsistency means it’s tough to pick any particular players at the moment, but the likes of Adam Johnson, Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham can cause plenty of problems when they fancy it. Also, Patrick van Aanholt looks like a good player from what I’ve seen.

Do you have a score prediction for us? Goalscorers?

Stuart: I’ve got to fancy us at home, so I’m going with 2-0. Scorers - Pelle and Fonte.

You can follow Stuart on Twitter via this link @stuwatkins2010

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