Belfast Telegraph

Saints march on as Southampton manager Koeman welcomes rest

By Steve Tongue

In the wake of an 11th victory in 12 matches, by 2-0 margin against Leicester on Saturday, Southampton's manager, Ronald Koeman, said he welcomed the imminent international break "because we had a tough last few weeks". It was tempting to respond: "You ain't seen nothing yet".

Just like a year ago, the Saints have made the most of a comparatively gentle fixture list early on, once again conceding only five goals from 11 league games to sit proudly in the top three.

Last season, however, mid-November proved the high point and December was the cruellest month as the big guns were finally drawn up against them.

This time, after resuming away to Aston Villa, Koeman's men must take on both Manchester clubs, Arsenal (twice), Everton and Chelsea before the FA Cup comes around.

"I haven't seen until now teams much better than Southampton," the manager claimed.

If he can say the same come New Year's Day, it will be something to crow about.

Neutrals should nevertheless wish them well, for they are a club run on the right lines, as a multimillion pound upgrade last week to the already impressive training centre and famed academy emphasised; Harrison Reed, a teenage midfielder and England Under-20 international, who slipped on as a late substitute on Saturday, is one of the most recent graduates.

His appearance was understandably overshadowed by that of Shane Long, who came on 20 minutes earlier to win won the game with two deftly taken goals after nine games for the club without one.

Supporters wondering about the £12m fee paid to Hull for him in the summer would have been reassured by the quality of his finishing.

"Luckily, the focus hasn't been on me individually," the Tipperary man Long said.

"It has been on us as a team, with so many players leaving and so many players coming in and everyone expecting us to have a bad season."

In contrast to all this, Leicester have been in freefall since putting five goals past Manchester United, failing to score in five subsequent games out of six. For players and supporters who suffered one defeat in five months to the end of last season, it is, as manager Nigel Pearson put it, "a difficult concept" to deal with.

The only down side for Southampton was an apparent hamstring injury to Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis. He is now a major doubt for Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania in Bucharest on Friday night.

Davis said: "I felt my hamstring a little bit and it was more a precaution coming off than anything.

"I would have played on but didn't want to make it any worse. Obviously, we'll let it settle down over the next couple of days and then assess it."

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