Saints to march on to next level

Tuesday 21st May 2013 6:54

Mauricio Pochettino: Has impressed Saints fans since his arrival

Mauricio Pochettino: Has impressed Saints fans since his arrival

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FanZoner Ben Stanfield reflects with pride on Southampton's successful Premier League campaign and cannot wait for what the summer may bring.

So that's it! After 38 games of blood, sweat and tears the Premier League is officially over for another year and Saints can look forward to being a part of one of the most exciting leagues in the world again next year.

Before the season had started I would genuinely have happily snapped your hand off for 17th place if you had offered it to me and, with just four points secured from the first 10 games, I'd have got down on my knees and begged you for it.

So, having eventually finished in 14th position, I must say I am absolutely thrilled with the progress that we've made this season.

Southampton have big long-term plans but you have to be able to walk before you can run and any Saints fan would have taken stability in the Premier League this season as a strong sign of progress.

We have adapted well and taken some big scalps with wins against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea and some positive displays even in defeat against Manchester United, on both occasions, and Manchester City away.

The players, many still very young, have had to step up and be counted each week and the management and fans could not have asked any more of them. Not one player in our squad has gone AWOL when relied upon.

Also, when you look at the style of football we are playing now compared even to 12 months ago, it really excites you as a fan to think where this team can now go.

The core of experience like Artur Boruc, Jose Fonte, Steven Davis and Rickie Lambert has gelled perfectly with the youthful talent of the likes of Jay Rodriguez and the trio of England-U21 representatives, Jack Cork, Nathaniel Clyne and the much sought after, Luke Shaw.

Rickie Lambert, who most 'experts' believed would struggle to score five goals in the Premier League, has finished joint top English goal scorer with the ever prolific Frank Lampard on 15, and thoroughly deserves all of the praise he has received. Rickie is our talisman on the pitch and his energy and willingness to put his body on the line each week is the epitome of everything we are trying to achieve.

As mentioned there seem to be big plans afoot this summer for Saints to build and develop the squad they have and make that push for the next level - a top-10 finish next season.

I don't think we are that far away from having a team that can take that step forward already but we will definitely need some more intense competition throughout the squad. With up to 15 fringe players heading for the exit over the summer, it certainly feels like there are going to be many comings and goings at St Mary's.

But with Nicola Cortese agreeing to stay on as chairman; a fantastic, committed and loyal fan base; a team that is already showing its potential; and, even more importantly, a Trust ownership that wants to invest in furthering our success, I cannot help but feel that Southampton should be an attractive proposition for any player who is motivated by a challenge and the desire to further their career.

If you are a player looking for a pay day then Southampton is definitely not for you. But for those keen to represent a fantastically supported football club in the Premier League then Southampton can offer you everything you want.

The decision by Cortese to stay was a massive one for fans. Sure, it was blown up massively in the media about whether he would or would not stay, but he has helped to drive this club to where it is now and that passion and ability to deliver on his promises is what fans want to see continued.

I haven't always agreed with every decision Cortese has made - particularly the way he ruthlessly dispensed of Nigel Adkins - but it is clear his employees know that if you don't give 100% and believe in what he is trying to achieve then you will be out of the door. That sort of passion to get positive results should really never be questioned.

Having briefly mentioned him, I must also thank Adkins for what he did for Saints during this and previous seasons. This is ultimately his team and, although Mauricio Pochettino has come in and tweaked a few things, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have stayed up under Adkins' leadership as well.

I genuinely hope that Nigel succeeds in bringing Reading back to the Premier League. He will always be a hero to me but Pochettino has my full support. I look forward to seeing the manager fully stamp his authority on the squad and our style next season.

Few teams have played more attractive football than Saints this year and, although it has cost us points at times, it is the way that fans want to see the game played.

Our campaign fizzled out over the last final six games, probably due to fatigue and the fact that the hard work to stay I the division had already been done, but the anticipation ahead of next season seems to be at fever pitch already and it really is a great time to be a Saints fan.

For now, though, we can relax for a few weeks and look forward to the summer and whatever it may bring.

By Ben Stanfield, FanZone's Southampton blogger. Follow Ben on Twitter at @benstanners.

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