Bouncing back

Posted by Chris Rann

It will be a prominent occasion for Saints Saturday when they take on West Bromwich Albion knowing that a point will likely secure their Premier League future. Those who witnessed Saints reverse performance at the Hawthorns in November could never have believed that this day was ever possible.

Andrew Yates/AFP/GettyImagesWest Brom keeper Ben Foster soars over Saints' Maya Yoshida in the Baggies' 2-0 win in November.

Saints went to the Midlands that day with just four points from their opening nine fixtures, rock bottom of the table and five points adrift of 17th place. Their performance was nothing short of dire in a 2-0 loss. Without doubt the worst performance of the season, and one that confirmed, even in the most optimistic of Saints fan's mind, that they simply weren't cut out for the division.

Saints were bullied by the central Baggies pairing and looked nowhere near their opponents in terms of quality or desire. It looked like the beginning of a long season. Fans, for the first time, started to question the tenure of Nigel Adkins.

Actually, you can pinpoint the defeat at West Brom as the exact turning point in Saints season. It's been some turnaround. Now, Saints have 39 points and sit in 12th, a top-half finish a distinct possibility. They have averaged just under 1.5 points a game since then, and a combination in an upturn in confidence under Adkins and then the impressive style and brashness under Mauricio Pochettino has seen 'relegation certainties' turn into 'European contenders'.

The hard work mustn't stop though, and Saints won't want their current unbeaten run (six games) to end just yet. A home fixture against WBA, must now be viewed as winnable, and be marked down as at the very least a point.

So how do Saints beat the Baggies Saturday?

Firstly, play them now. After an impressive start to their season, Steve Clarke's side have stuttered as it comes to a close. They sit 17th in the current form table, and on the road have won just one of their last six games, with four ending in defeat. Saints are fourth in the form chart.

Second, keep up the relentless pressing. WBA are statistically one of the worst teams in the league at keeping the ball. They average just under 50 percent possession at home, and only 44 on the road. Their back four all have poor pass completion percentages too, so will make mistakes under pressure.

Third, nullify Romelu Lukaku. Another that goes into the 'obvious' category, but with WBA only scoring 18 times on the road this season, Lukaku scoring a third of them, it is clear they set up to utilise the impressive young striker.

Fourth, watch Billy Jones. I've been tipping Jones for superstardom ever since I made him my must-buy player in Championship Manager 2003. He's looked good for the Baggies this season, and would love to put one over on his old (fictional) manager.

Fifth, put a cork in it. Saints fans have been waxing lyrical about the pairing of Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin all season. This is where they can truly shine. Claudio Yacob and Youssuf Mulumbu absolutely dominated proceedings in the reverse fixture, in a display that was comparable to a schoolyard bully taking dinner money from some smaller kids.

WBA play through the middle, but they didn't come up against Cork last time. With both players raising eyebrows among the world's media, it would be nice if they got a bit of revenge this weekend.

Sixth, keep on doing what you've been doing. Six games unbeaten, big scalps and talk of Europe, but you are only as good as your last game. Time to secure safety and start thinking about next season.

Keep the faith.

ESPN Conversations