Nigel Adkins

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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.

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