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Saints 15/16 Review

Reliving the 2015/16 Saints season

With the current 2019/20 Premier League campaign having to be put on hold, we thought we’d take the chance to relive a classic season on the south coast.

The 2015/16 season was certainly one to remember for Southampton fans as the club finished in 6th place with 63 points, a personal Premier League record for both position and points.

The team was a joy to watch week in, week out and was the last campaign that Saints could consider a real success.

So let’s look back on how Ronald Koeman’s side worked their magic to achieve excellent performances and results in the red and white striped strip.

Pre-season reaps its rewards

Southampton were coming off the back of another very productive season with Koeman achieving a 7th place finish in his first year in charge.

However, not for the first time, the summer transfer window looked like a potential backwards step with key players departing to divisional rivals.

Nathaniel Clyne became another Saints product to join Liverpool while Morgan Schneiderlin moved to Manchester United.

Few could’ve predicted how well the scouting department did in not only minimizing the effects of the outgoings but improving the side in other areas that were already strong.

With Clyne leaving St Mary’s, two right-backs were brought in to cover that position with Cuco Martina joining from FC Twente and Portugal international Cedric Soares signing from Sporting.

Priced at just £4.7 million, in hindsight Cedric proved to be somewhat of a bargain given the five years of solid service that followed.

Jordy Clasie joined for £8 million, despite interest from eventual title winners Leicester City while Oriol Romeu came in for just £5 million, another signing that represented good business.

However, the best of the lot was to arrive on deadline day with centre-back Virgil van Dijk signing from Celtic for a mere £13 million – with the club eventually making a £62 million profit following his controversial move to Liverpool a couple of years later.

Juanmi, Maarten Stekelenburg and Steven Caulker also joined, although none of which played a big part in the campaign

So, Saints’ transfer activity saw them bring in real quality for limited money which perhaps gave early indications that they were on their way to a great season.

The pre-season saw mixed results following three early defeats to RB Leipzig, Valencia and RB Salzburg before four straight victories over Brighton, Groingen, Quick ’20 and Feyenoord.

The final friendly saw a 1-1 draw with Espanyol at St Mary’s a week before the competitive action was set to begin.

Mixed start

The Saints began their season with an entertaining 2-2 draw at Newcastle with substitute Shane Long snatching a point for the visitors after Graziano Pelle met Cedric’s long ball to head Saints into an early lead.

The following week saw one of the worst days of the whole campaign as they were downed 3-0 at home to Everton.

Southampton have a habit of making slow starts to seasons and this was no different as they then drew in a lacklustre affair with newly promoted Watford.

Their first win came the following weekend with a morale boosting 3-0 victory over Norwich, although they did play against 10-men for the best part of an hour.

Another goalless draw followed at West Brom in van Dijk’s Premier League debut before a home 3-2 loss to Manchester United, this result meant that Saints had won just once of their opening six encounters, leaving them in 16th place.

The club bounced back with some improved results, starting with a 3-1 win over Swansea following goals from Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane and a first for the club for van Dijk.

One of the more memorable matches of the early stages of the season came in a 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge, their first since 2002, to pile more misery on Joes Mourinho’s side in a superb display for the visitors.

Two draws followed as Saints squandered a 2-0 advantage at home to eventual champions Leicester before they snatched a late equaliser of their own at Anfield.

That encounter against Liverpool marked 10 games into the season, with Southampton sitting in 8th place on 14 points as we headed into November.

Difficult winter

The winter months began with the first ever top-flight meeting of Southampton and Bournemouth at St Mary’s as goals from Pelle and Steven Davis secured a 2-0 victory.

A 1-0 win at struggling Sunderland followed to move the side just four points off a Champions League place.

However, the Saints missed the chance to kick on with a difficult set of results that left the side sliding down the table as they were to win only one of their next eight league games.

It started with a disappointing 1-0 home loss to Stoke before a routine 3-1 win for Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

An Oriol Romeu equaliser snatched a point at home to Aston Villa who were rooted to the bottom of the table having won just one match all season.

Defeats to Crystal Palace and Spurs made it five matches without a win in the run up to Christmas before Boxing Day brought a game that came out of nowhere and defied all logic based on recent form.

Saints hosted Arsenal, who themselves had the chance to go top of the league and blitzed them away in a remarkable performance that saw the hosts thump the Gunners 4-0.

In one of their finest results of the decade, a double from Shane Long and a Jose Fonte header followed a remarkable opening strike from new signing Martina to complete a memorable day for all Saints fans.

That result proved to be an even bigger outlier in this sequence of matches in the days that followed as Southampton would get back to their losing ways against West Ham and Norwich.

This run left the side in 13th place, closer to the relegation zone (seven points) than to an automatic European qualification spot (eight points).

Quick recovery – up until Swansea 0-1 Southampton

So 2016 began with a defeat at Carrow Road, but Saints managed to put that poor run behind them with some much improved showings that better matched the glorious display against Arsenal.

Comfortable victories at home to Watford and West Brom immediately followed before the club made a significant move in the January transfer window.

Charlie Austin was to join the club for a reported fee of just £4 million from QPR which once again represented great business, no matter what you think of the player now.

He made an immediate impact after coming on for his debut at Old Trafford in the next game with the scores level at 0-0.

Austin rose to head home a free-kick in the 87th minute just seven minutes into his debut to return all three points to the south coast and make it three wins on the bounce.

Another battling performance came next in a goalless draw at Arsenal as goalkeeper Fraser Forster claimed the man-of-the-match award.

Wins over West Ham and Swansea came next, both by a goal to nil, to complete a remarkable turnaround in fortune as Southampton now went six games without losing and rose up to 6th in the Premier League table

In fact, they didn’t even concede a goal, a run that completed 11 hours and 48 minutes without letting one into their own net.

Slight blip

The Saints were to lose their first game in almost two months when Chelsea came from behind to snatch a late winner at St Mary’s before Bournemouth were to get revenge for their earlier 2-0 defeat by reversing the scoreline at Dean Court.

Koeman’s side were then to get a late goal of their own at St Mary’s as they scored an injury-time leveller against a Sunderland side just above the relegation zone.

These three winless encounters dropped the side to just above half-way and now six points off the magical 6th place having played more games than most around them.

With nine games to play, the Saints needed a barn-storming conclusion if they were to go on a European tour the following season.

Blistering finale (only defeat in last 10 coming against champions Leicester)

But that is exactly what they got.

The run-in kick-started with a 2-1 victory at Stoke before one of the games of the season as Southampton came from 2-0 down against Liverpool to win 3-2 in extraordinary style.

A double for Mane, and a missed penalty to boot, coupled with a solo from Pelle gave Saints an exceptional win at St Mary’s.

They were to lose their next match though as Leicester City claimed a vital 1-0 win for the title chase but this defeat was to be the only one in Saints’ final 10 matches.

They responded with a 3-1 win over Newcastle followed by a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Everton that left them in 7th, one point behind West Ham having played two games more.

However, Southampton did all they could do to overturn the deficit by winning their final four matches against Aston Villa, Manchester City, Spurs and Crystal Palace by an aggregate score of 14-7 in some highly entertaining and enjoyable clashes.

Coupled with the Hammers slipping up in their season finale, Southampton ensured they completed a memorable season by qualifying for the Europa League with a record Premier League points tally – in a season that was simply joyful from start to finish.

Thanks for reading, take care & keep safe

Luke

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