Three weeks ago, the bookies and even Nigel Adkins admitted that his time as Southampton manager was running out.
"Someone is always going to be the favorite to be sacked," Adkins said after Southampton's 2-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion on November 5. "If you're bottom of the league, you should be the favorite probably.
"I'm not going to hide away from that, but what a great challenge we face," he continued.
Three weeks later, Southampton have take seven points out of nine following Sunday's 2-0 victory over Newcastle United at St. Mary's Stadium. The win moves Southampton out of the relegation zone for the first time since week two and marks the first clean sheet the Saints have kept in the Premier League since their return.
Adkins was able to name an unchanged starting 11 for the third straight game, with only reserves Frazer Richardson, Danny Fox and Richard Chaplow unavailable due to injury.
That was a stark contrast to the dilemma Alan Pardew was facing in his first game back at St. Mary's since being replaced as Southampton manager in 2010. Pardew was missing the services of several key players, including Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Fabricio Coloccini among those missing.
Southampton had the best of the early chances when Gaston Ramirez fired a curling free kick around the Newcastle wall in the 25th minute, only to have Tim Krul parry the attempt wide of his near post. Rickie Lambert would get a free kick chance of his own in the 33rd minute, but his shot hit the top corner of the woodwork before bouncing out of play.
Saints would break through in the 34th minute. Rickie Lambert controlled the ball at midfield and played a good ball wide to a streaking Jason Puncheon. Krul was able to beat Puncheon to the ball, but his clearance went straight to Nathaniel Clyne. Clyne launched a hard ball toward goal that was well headed by Mike Williamson, but the ball went straight to Ramirez. The Uruguayan was able to slot the ball over to Adam Lallana who was able to finish into the gaping net to put Southampton up 1-0.
"We're starting to find our feet so we're learning off each-other and playing well." Lallana told the Saints' website after the match.
"We're creating chances, which is exactly what we want to achieve."
Newcastle did have a great opportunity to level in the 54th minute through some route one football. Krul's clearance found the head of Demba Ba, who headed the ball on to Vurnon Anita. Anita was able to fight off a challenge from Jose Fonte, but his shot was pretty much straight to Paulo Gazzaniga.
Southampton made the game much more comfortable in the 60th minute with some great interplay between Lallana and Puncheon. Puncheon passed to Lallana, who controlled and back-heeled the ball back to Puncheon. Puncheon's cross was mishandled by Krul in the slick, rainy conditions, and Ramirez was able to tap the ball into the net to make the score 2-0 for the home side.
Puncheon and Lallana came close to creating even more magic in the 70th minute. Ramirez found Lallana outside the top of the box with a centering pass. Lallana quickly found a cutting Puncheon making a diagonal run into the box. Puncheon shot quickly and beat Krul, but was denied by the near post.
Newcastle had one last chance to get back into the match in the 74th minute when they found Danny Simpson on the wide right. Simpson floated a cross toward the back post, where Davide Santon headed strongly low, only to be denied by a strong hand of Gazzaniga.
Southampton would have a couple more opportunities to extend the lead. Jose Fonte was denied his third goal of the season by the crossbar in the 81st minute off of a Puncheon cross. In the 89th minute, Jay Rodriguez would find the back of the net, but was ruled marginally offside on the through ball pass from Puncheon.
“We carried on from last week and even the week before that where we played very well against Swansea,” Adkins admitted on the Saints' website after the match.
“I thought we had a good solid shape about ourselves today, but some of our attacking flair was outstanding."
Southampton will hope to continue their good form with a short turnaround when Norwich visit St. Mary's on Wednesday. Currently sitting in 17th place, Southampton could move another couple of places up the table with a win.
"We've got back-to-back wins now, and we want a third on Wednesday night." Lallana said.
"We've got a big chance to pull a bit further away from the drop zone—and we want to take that chance."
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