Nigel Adkins is a former footballer and current manager. He was born in Birkenhead on 11th March 1965. Adkins was a goalkeeper and began his career with his local side Tranmere in 1983. He played 86 times for the Prenton Park side before moving to Wigan in 1986. Adkins appeared 155 times for The Latics, but his playing career was cut short when he suffered a double spinal fracture.
Adkins had ambitions to become a manager from a very young age, having first coached a Sunday league side at the age of 16. He was given his first job as boss with League of Wales side Bangor City in 1993. Adkins led the Welsh side to two consecutive championship wins in his first two years at the club, as well as a League Cup final in 1994. The club qualified for Europe twice after winning those titles, but were eliminated at the preliminary stages on both occasions. Bangor were majorly handicapped by the three foreigners rule, and with much of Adkins squad made up of Englishmen, he was unable to put out a full strength side.
Adkins joined Scunthorpe United as physio in 1996, having previously gained a degree in physiotherapy from the University of Salford. Adkins remained in that position for ten years, until Scunny manager Brian Laws was poached by Sheffield Wednesday in November 2006. Adkins was initially placed in temporary charge following Laws departure, but was given the job on a permanent basis on December 6th 2006 after two wins and a draw in his caretaker spell. Adkins was quick to make his mark at the club, and adopted more of a passing style. The Iron had previously been a fairly direct side under former boss Laws. Adkins lost just three league matches in 2006/07 and ended the season with a League 1 winner's medal. An impressive 19 game unbeaten run between December and April set Scunny apart from the rest that campaign.
Adkins lost his star striker Billy Sharp in the 2007/08 close season, when Sheffield United paid £2,000,000 for the forward who scored an incredible 32 times in The Iron's title winning season. Sharp was the second big name front man to leave Glanford Park in recent times, after Andy Keogh had departed for Wolves the previous January. Adkins reinvested the money received from Sharp and Keogh to bring in Martin Paterson from Stoke for a record fee of £425,000. He also brought in Izzy Iriekpen, Paul Hayes and Jonathan Forte. Despite having the smallest budget in the division, Scunthorpe made a decent start to the Championship campaign, and were sat in 9th place at the end of October. A poor run that lasted until February saw Adkins side pick up just one win in seventeen matches though, which put Scunthorpe well adrift in the bottom two for the remainder of the campaign. January signings Ben May, Grant McCann and Kevin Horlock were unable to prevent a 23rd place finish. Despite being officially the second worst outfit in the division, Scunny won many fans with their attractive style of football, and often dominated possession in games only to come up short in the final third of the pitch.
Despite The Iron's relegation back to League 1, Adkins remained a favourite with the Glanford Park crowd, who would chant "Who needs Mourinho? We've got our physio!" Adkins was able to retain the services of most of his squad for the 2008/09 campaign, as well as adding the likes of Gary Hooper, Martyn Woolford and Sam Togwell, who were key men in Scunny's promotion through the play-offs that season. Hooper netted 30 times, forming a formidable partnership with Paul Hayyes. Adkins led Scunthorpe to The Football League Trophy final, which they lost to Luton 3-2 after extra time, despite taking an early lead. After securing a 6th place finish, his side returned to Wembley in the play-off final. This time Scunny were victorious, coming from behind to beat Millwall 3-2, thanks to a late Martyn Woolford strike.
Adkins strengthened his Scunthorpe side by bringing in the likes of Michael O'Connor and Josh Wright in preparation for their return to The Championship for 2009/10. This time Scunny's fight for survival was a success, with Adkins's side ending the campaign in 20th position, two places above the drop zone. Striker Gary Hooper played a big part in The Iron's success yet again, scoring 20 times. Adkins's men also gave Manchester City a scare in the FA Cup 4th round. After being thrashed 5-1 earlier in the season at The City of Manchester Stadium in the League Cup, Scunthorpe acquitted themselves much better at Glanford Park on 24th January and were even tied at 1-1 at one point against the Manchester giants, until City eventually overpowered The Championship side to win 4-2. Scunny's most impressive performance in the league came on 9th January when they hammered Derby 4-1 at Pride Park.
Adkins lost his two star strikers before the start of the 2010/11 season. Gary Hooper was sold to Celtic for £2,400,000, while Paul Hayes moved to Preston. Despite these massive departures, his side made a good start to the campaign, with a shock win on the opening day at Reading. Shortly after Adkins's side had thumped Crystal Palace 3-0 on 28th August, the former physiotherapist attracted interest from Southampton, who sacked Alan Pardew on August 30th. Adkins held talks with Saints in early September and quickly agreed terms with Chairman Nicola Cortese. At one point the deal looked in danger however, when Scunthorpe claimed Cortese had asked Adkins to resign in order to avoid paying compensation, something he refused to do. A compensation package was eventually agreed though, and Adkins became Southampton boss on 12th September 2010, one day after his final match at Scunthorpe, which he lost 2-0 against Bristol City.
Adkins' debut match as Southampton boss came at MK Dons on September 15th 2010. Despite dominating in the early stages, Saints finishing was poor and his new side went down to a 2-0 defeat, which left them in the League 1 drop zone. Adkins first home game was a 0-0 draw against Colchester three days later. He wouldn't have to wait much longer for his first win at the club. That came on 25th September at Sheffield Wednesday, when Lee Barnard grabbed the only goal of the game.
Adkins was slowly but surely getting his ideas across to his new team. Performances were mixed in October and November, but Saints only lost two matches in that time. He brought through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who established himself as a future star with two awesome goals in the 4-0 win over Dagenham & Redbridge on November 2nd. The former Scunthorpe boss made Richard Chaplow his first signing, taking the midfielder on loan from Preston. League leaders Brighton frustrated Adkins's men on 23rd November, earning a 0-0 draw after Kelvin Davis had saved a penalty late on. The club also progressed to the FA Cup third round during this time, with wins against Shrewsbury and Cheltenham.
Adkins was in charge for the worst performance of the season against Brentford on December 11th. The Bees ran out 2-0 winners at St Marys in a terrible contest. Saints would only play one other match that month as bad weather caused matches at Hartlepool, Walsall and Charlton to be postponed. Southampton closed out 2010 with a 4-1 massacre of Huddersfield on December 28th. That was followed up with an equally impressive display against Exeter on New Year's Day, which saw Saints run out 4-0 winners.
Adkins had a great start to 2011. Two days after the Exeter match, Saints travelled to Dagenham and secured another vital three points in a hard fought win on a dodgy playing surface. Guly Do Prado and Richard Chaplow were signed to permanent contracts before Saints dumped Blackpool out of the FA Cup with a very convincing performance. Three days later Southampton hit six goals past Oldham without reply.
Saints fans could have been forgiven for thinking automatic promotion was a nailed on certainty after the result at Oldham. However, the clubs promotion charge stalled slightly after poor displays against Notts County and Tranmere saw Saints gain just one point from their following two matches. Dany N'Guessan was signed on loan from Leicester just before the FA Cup 4th round home tie against Manchester United, which Southampton led at half time thanks to a Richard Chaplow strike. Saints matched The Red Devils for much of the contest, but eventually lost out 2-1. Adkins brought Jonathan Forte to the club on January 31st from his old side Scunthorpe
Southampton's display's during February were largely unconvincing, even though Adkins's side ended the month undefeated. The 4-4 draw at Peterborough saw Saints twice blow a two goal lead. The south coast club lost their rearranged match at Walsall on March 1st despite having enough chances to win about three games. That result proved to be a turning point however. Southampton won 7 out of their next 8. The highlights from that run included the 3-1 win at promotion rivals Bournemouth, where Saints had to come from behind after conceding an early goal, and the game against MK Dons on 2nd April, which saw the St Marys outfit come from 2-0 down to win 3-2. Adkins introduction of Jonathan Forte as a second half sub in that contest proved a stroke of genius. Forte grabbed two goals shortly after coming on.
Adkins had proven to be extremely adaptable in his first season at St Marys, adopting a number of different formations over the course of the campaign (4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 were all used at some point) but more often than not he settled on using a diamond midfield. Adkins also shored things up at the back. Southampton recorded their best defensive record for years in 2010/11 thanks to a very organised back four. Saints also saw an increase of goals from set plays, something Adkins liked to work extensively on in training. On March 24th Adkins took Dale Stephens on loan from Oldham.
Adkins really proved his worth in the final two months of the 2010/11 season. His Southampton side won 9 of their last 10 matches to secure promotion back to The Championship in 2nd spot. The highlight of that run undoubtedly came at Brighton on 23rd April when Adkins men came from 1-0 down to win 2-1, with late goals from David Connolly and Jose Fonte. The end of season form was even more remarkable given the fact that a number of key players were missing in certain matches. Alex Chamberlain missed most of the run in, only returning on the final day. Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana and Lee Barnard also sat out due to injury. Despite these key absences, Adkins handled the squad brilliantly, and promotion was secured on 2nd May after a 3-1 win at Plymouth. He was named manager of the month for April 2011.
On May 21st 2011 Southampton announced Adkins had signed a new four and a half year contract back in January, keeping him at the club until June 2015. His Saints side made a great start to the 2011/12 season, winning 6 out of 7 matches in August. Adkins had strengthened the side with new signings Jack Cork, Steve De Ridder and Danny Fox. Cork in particular made a huge difference in the first month, helping Saints to some excellent attacking displays.
Adkins got the absolute maximum out of every single player during 2011/12. The likes of Frazer Richardson and Dean Hammond came on leaps and bounds under his stewardship. Throughout the season Adkins geared the whole team around star striker Rickie Lambert, who had become a well rounded centre forward. The width would be provided by the full backs. Richardson and Fox were capable of making fantastic cross-field passes. Cork and Hammond sat in midfield keeping things ticking over, while the adaptable Guly and Adam Lallana provided plenty of skill from the flanks. David Connolly brilliantly linked up alongside the talismanic Lambert.
Adkins used the cup competitions to give fringe players and youngsters an opportunity. He employed a 4-2-3-1 formation during Carling Cup matches before going out in the 4th round. Saints went out at the same stage to Millwall in February 2012. Adkins handed debuts to James Ward-Prowse, Ben Reeves, Luke Shaw, Jack Stephens, Ryan Doble and Sam Hoskins.
Back in the league Saints continued to dominate the Championship, playing some stunning football in the process. Adkins led his team to big wins over Birmingham and Watford. He suffered rare defeats at Leicester and Cardiff, but in both of those matches Saints had enough chances to win. On October 18th his charges opened up a five point lead at the top of the table after beating West Ham at St Marys. Adkins got his tactics spot on that day, lining up with a 4-3-3 formation. Saints won the midfield battle, and also limited West Ham's most threatening attacking players. Jos Hooiveld - a deadline day signing from Celtic- settled the contest. Three days later came the trip to Reading which ended in a 1-1 draw. Saints looked as poor as they had done all season at that point, but rescued a point with a late Steve De Ridder equaliser.
On October 29th Saints beat promotion rivals Middlesbrough 3-0 in a convincing display. Adkins made the brave decision to bring in Danny Butterfield for his first start of the season over in-form Frazer Richardson. Once again the former Scunny man was proven right. Butterfield supplied a number of dangerous long balls, which were met by goal-scorer Guly Do Prado. The third goal that day came from a brilliant passing move which was straight off the training ground. The good form continued into November with a 4-2 win at Coventry. Saints then beat Brighton 3-0 on November 19th in a heated clash. The win against Hull on November 29th was the club's 21st consecutive home triumph, a new record.
Adkins would enter his most difficult spell of the season on November 26th at Bristol City. Things started to go wrong after only a few minutes when Richard Chaplow was stretchered off injured. Saints were dominated throughout at Ashton Gate, struggling to cope with the pace of Albert Adomah. The game ended 2-0 to Bristol City and Southampton's bad form would continue for weeks. Saints struggled in the absence of Rickie Lambert on December 3rd in a 1-0 defeat at Doncaster. Adkins decided to place Morgan Schneiderlin just behind lone striker Guly at the Keepmoat, but Saints still lacked that presence up front that Lambert usually provided. The St Marys outfit started well against Blackpool on 10th December, but dropped two points thanks to some goalkeeping blunders from Bartosz Bialkowski. On 18th December Saints put in plenty of effort in the long awaited South Coast Derby at Portsmouth, but came away with just a point in a cagey affair.
There's no doubt injury played a big role in the team's struggles throughout December and January. Saints were looking thin on the ground with the likes of Richard Chaplow, Jose Fonte and David Connolly unavailable. The fact that Adkins had to call upon the likes of Jonathan Forte and Ben Reeves at Brighton on January 2nd said it all. Saints were also getting overrun in midfield at times though, especially on December 30th when Bristol City ended the team's long unbeaten home run. Rickie Lambert got himself sent off at Brighton, while Adam Lallana also missed part of January though injury. The bad run culminated with the worst display of the season against Leicester on January 26th. Fortunately the chasing pack had failed to capitalise on Southampton's poor form. Adkins's men still occupied a top 2 spot going into February.
Adkins and Cortese had strengthened the squad in January with the signings of Tadanari Lee, Billy Sharp and Yago Falque. Jason Puncheon also returned from a long exile. Adkins tightened things up in February, making Saints a lot more difficult to beat. The team conceded just a single goal during the month, thanks to some heroic defending from Kelvin Davis, Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld. Adkins also adopted a slightly more direct approach, to combat opponents who could break up play in midfield. The football wasn't as exciting, but the results were there for all to see. Saints secured big wins over Derby and Watford, and also drew at West Ham, a result that would prove vital come the end of the season.
In early 2012 Adkins had moved Morgan Schneiderlin back into the centre of midfield. The Frenchman was one of the team's most consistent and important players in the second half of the campaign, with a great range of passing. His form in March was particularly impressive. Schneiderlin started attacks by pinging long balls out to the wings. Saints won an unlikely 3 points at Leeds on March 3rd thanks to some heroic goalkeeping from Kelvin Davis. They cruised to victories over Barnsley, Hull and Doncaster, and came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 in a remarkable comeback at Millwall. Saints ended March with a disappointing 3-0 loss at Blackpool.
On 7th April Saints faced rivals Pompey at St Marys. It was a rare occasion where Adkins was outfoxed by his opposite number. Portsmouth limited Saints, and held them at 1-1 for much of the contest. It didn't help that Morgan Schneiderlin had been injured by Luke Varney in the opening 10 minutes. The decision to replace the disappointing Guly with Steve De Ridder proved to be a mistake, as Saints lost their shape. Billy Sharp gave Saints a 2-1 lead on 89 minutes, only for David Norris to hit a heartbreaking 94th minute equaliser. Saints recovered to beat Palace 2-0 two days later.
On 13th April Saints faced Reading at St Marys in a top of the table clash. The Royals had been in unstoppable form going into the game, but Adkins's men dominated the first half. Somehow they found themselves 1-0 down before the break however. Reading sat back and invited pressure, before Jason Roberts headed in past Kelvin Davis. Saints continued to push forward, and found an equaliser early into the second half through Rickie Lambert. The home side lost their grip of the game soon after however, and ended up conceding two goals without further reply. Reading won the game and the title, but 2nd place was still all to play for.
West Ham's 6-0 win over Brighton put the pressure on Saints, but a 3-1 win over Peterborough on 17th April settled the nerves, especially as The Hammers had drawn 1-1 with Bristol City on the same night. It meant Saints needed just two points from their remaining two fixtures. It looked as if they were going to get them when Billy Sharp scored in the first minute at Middlesbrough on April 21st. Boro battled back to win 2-1 however, which meant Saints had it all to do on the final day against Coventry. Adkins's men made no mistake against the Sky Blues on April 28th, winning 4-0 to secure back to back promotions.
Throughout 2011/12 Adkins made a habit of quoting Sun Tzu's ancient Chinese military treatise 'The Art of War'. "Never underestimate the opposition" Adkins continued to repeat in every pre-match interview.