Southampton v Swansea City: Lively attack yet to make up for shocking defence
EVEN Clive Dunn might have marvelled at Nigel Adkins's refusal to panic during difficult times on the South Coast.
Adkins is known as the manager who works with a smile on his face, who is relentlessly upbeat even when the black clouds seem to be following his team around.
Yet even Adkins may struggle to remain positive if Southampton are beaten tomorrow.
The 47-year-old — who has been considered as a possible Swansea City manager in the past — has had plenty to be happy about in a couple of years at St Mary's.
He took charge of a club struggling at the wrong end of League One — they were 22nd when Alan Pardew left — and has delivered back-to-back promotions.
But the mood can very quickly change in football boardrooms, and at one stage this week it seemed a foregone conclusion that Adkins was to be relieved of his duties.
Defeat at West Bromwich Albion last Monday night made it eight reverses from ten Premier League outings for the club who finished second in the Championship last season.
Adkins was summoned to a meeting with Southampton's chairman, Nicola Cortese, the following day, and the general consensus was that he would emerge armed with his P45.
Yet Adkins survived, Cortese deciding to give his man time even as stories circulated about possible interest on Paulo Di Canio and Gianluca Vialli.
Adkins has been granted a stay of execution, but he squares up to Michael Laudrup tomorrow with a weight on his shoulders.
"Someone is always going to be the favourite (to be sacked)," he conceded this week, "and, if you're bottom of the league, well, you should be the favourite probably."
Adkins, overwhelming 4-9 favourite to be the first top-flight manager to lose his job this season, needs results. And quickly.
After this weekend's clash with Swansea City comes a trip to Queens Park Rangers, then Southampton host Newcastle United and Norwich City.
The feeling is that November represents a big chance for a Saints side who have played six of the top seven so far this season and only one of the bottom seven.
But there is also a suggestion that Adkins will not get the chance to see out the month should his team slip up once again against Swansea.
Serial winners in the last couple of campaigns, Southampton have very quickly become used to losing.
Their confidence must be brittle right now, and Swansea will believe their hosts could crumble if they can get in front tomorrow.
Laudrup's concern is that his team won't be right mentally, that after three big games, Swansea will not be tuned in for this less glamorous fixture.
"I have seen it so many times all over the world," he warns.
Laudrup has been attempting to ram the message home all week.
He even talked about getting the focus right at Southampton before last weekend's meeting with Chelsea.
This was a move which broke the managers' code, for 'concentrating on the next game' is a line you will hear at pre-match press calls up and down the land every week.
Laudrup's decision to discuss Southampton before Swansea faced the European champions was based on the assumption that his players did not need motivating ahead of Chelsea.
He called that one right.
The other reason for talking so early on about the Southampton trip was because Laudrup regards this fixture as the more significant.
Swansea are not tussling with Chelsea for league position, but Southampton are a rival in the battle to avoid relegation.
If Swansea can see off the Saints, they would have an extremely healthy 15 points on the board from the first 11 league matches of the season.
Southampton, meantime, would be marooned on four, leaving Adkins fearing a tap on the shoulder from his employers.
The situation would look much healthier from Southampton's perspective if they could secure only a second league win of the season tomorrow.
And if they are to manage that, their first task will be to address a defensive record which Adkins described as "shocking" this week.
Southampton have already used three goalkeepers this season and no fewer than six different combinations in the back four.
None has worked.
They have conceded 28 goals in ten league matches, an horrendous record which tells all about their struggles so far.
There has been no clean sheet to date in the league, and Southampton have conceded a minimum two goals in every top-flight fixture apart from the one they won, against Aston Villa (4-1) back in September.
If Swansea do not score twice tomorrow, then Southampton will be having a relatively good day.
If only they had got things right at the back, Adkins's team would be much higher in the table because they have scored a healthy 14 goals.
Rickie Lambert is likely to be their chief threat, while skipper Adam Lallana is a technically-gifted player who has a decent chance of staying in the top division next season even if his current team drop back into the second tier.
Southampton can also call on Gaston Ramirez, their £12 million summer signing from Bologna who has undoubted talent but is yet to fire in this country thanks in part to fitness troubles.
And then there is Jay Rodriguez, the striker who arrived from Burnley in the close season for £7 million but has only one Premier League goal to date.
Swansea considered bidding for the England Under-21 man, but quickly turned their attention elsewhere when they got wind of the asking price.
Even when compared to the bottom club, Swansea's resources look thin.
Perhaps that helps explain why Southampton start as favourites with the bookmakers tomorrow despite their dreadful start to the season.
Swansea will not mind that.
They proved last week, after all, that they are quite happy as the underdogs.