Saints go marching on: Southampton are EPL's new stars... and they know it
Ronald Koeman has insisted Southampton have the strength-in-depth to maintain their unlikely challenge for Champions League qualification.
The Saints regained third place in the Premier League from Manchester United thanks to a 2-1 victory away to Newcastle on Saturday, their first win at St James' Park for almost 18 years.
It's now eight games unbeaten in all competitions for Koeman's side, including last week's stand-out victory against United at Old Trafford, with the Saints continuing to prosper despite the absence of several key players through injury and international call-ups.
"That's our third away win in a week, and it's probably the best of the three," said Southampton manager Koeman, whose side, in between league games, also knocked second-tier Ipswich out of the FA Cup.
"We've got a great spirit and belief. Yes, we're missing some important players, but the difference is that we have young talented players, who've come into a team that's playing with a good organisation -- and that helps them," the Dutchman added.
"We have confidence in those young players, and it's not difficult for them to come into the team, the way we're playing it makes it easier for them."
Not laughing now
Southampton were written off as relegation candidates following a huge upheaval in pre-season that saw several key players depart for rival Premier League clubs, while Koeman arrived at the south coast side in June after former manager Mauricio Pochettino left St Mary's to take charge of Tottenham Hotspur.
Yet the Saints remain on course for a top four finish that would bring with it a chance of entry into the Champions League proper.
"If you'd said to me at the start of the season that we'd be third after 22 games, then maybe I'd have laughed at you," said Koeman.
"But I'm not laughing now, because we have a good team with good spirit and organisation, and I'm not surprised now by where we are," the former Netherlands central defender added.
"We've not really stolen any points this season, and we've got what we deserved."
Eljero Elia, a recent loan signing from Werder Bremen, scored two goals either side of a response from Newcastle's Yoan Gouffran, as the Saints emerged victorious from a trip to Tyneside for the first time since March, 1997.
Southampton coped admirably without the influential injured trio of Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld.
Southampton were further depleted by Sadio Mane and Emmanuel Mayuka being away on Africa Cup of Nations duty, while Maya Yoshida has joined the Japan squad for the Asia Cup.
"I have to say that it was a great team performance, a third tough away game in a week and a third win," added Koeman. "With all the injuries and others we had missing, the players are doing unbelievably well."
Newcastle are now set to embark on a five-day mid-season training camp in Dubai on the back of just one win in nine games.
Saturday's defeat meant caretaker manager John Carver remained without a victory in his four matches in charge since Alan Pardew left to join Premier League rivals Crystal Palace.
The 50-year-old Carver said the uncertainty surrounding the appointment of Pardew's permanent successor was having a detrimental effect on the north east side.
"It's three weeks now since Alan left, and everybody's waiting for it to be sorted," Carver explained. "It's out of my hands. They (the Newcastle board) have to do something about it, whether it's me or someone else."
Asked whether his chances of being appointed full-time manager had been dented by Newcastle's winless run, Carver added: "I feel that I can do the job full time absolutely, but you've got to win football matches.
"We should have had a penalty at the end, but didn't get it, and jobs and futures are decided on decisions like that. We didn't deserve to win the game, but we deserved to get something from it." AFP
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