Though hurt by their former manager's treatment, Saints fans gave the new boss a polite welcome and his team responded with a performance that proves their survival credentials
By George Ankers
In the end, there were no white handkerchiefs. Southampton fans elected to focus on supporting their team through the transition into the Mauricio Pochettino era rather than dwell on the sacking of Nigel Adkins.
The feeling remains that the decision to unceremoniously fire an extraordinarily successful manager was wrong but St Mary's Stadium had no quarrel with his successor. The Saints' new Argentine boss was greeted with polite applause and his team with loud backing.
There was, shamefully, no mention at all of the much-loved former coach in the matchday programme and the media were forbidden from interviewing supporters at the ground. "There's only one Nigel Adkins" got its fair share of airings, notably at full-time, but by and large chairman Nicola Cortese got his wish to airbrush the discontent and move on as quickly as possible.
A blistering start did not hurt. There was little time to mourn as Southampton came out of the blocks with gusto, putting down any suggestions of a negative reaction. Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert, both back in the starting XI, immediately set about testing Everton with excitable incision and dangerous movement. One would not have guessed that it was the team in blue who came into the game chasing a Champions League spot.
While the attacking profligacy will have disappointed Pochettino on the night, he knows that it will not be a long-term worry. Southampton have not struggled for goals this season; their defence has been the greatest source of trouble but they continued their improvement begun in Adkins' final few games.
With mentality unaffected, Saints confirmed what was already becoming clearly apparent: Everything is in place for whoever is in charge to take them to Cortese's much-desired next level.
Survival, certainly, is more than possible if the changeover continues as smoothly as this. Luke Shaw was again the standout at the back, further enhancing his burgeoning reputation, but Maya Yoshida is finding his feet at centre-back and will soon be partnered by new signing Vegard Forren.
More encouraging than anything else, the classy defensive midfield partnership of Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork are finally drawing the respect that befits their ability. Their eventual adaptation to the Premier League was never in doubt during Southampton's ascent through the leagues and the pair now offer a better central base than, at the very least, all five teams currently below them can boast.
The gap between Saints and the relegation zone is now up to four points, the highest that it has been all season. If Monday's performance is to represent the norm under Pochettino, that gap will only widen.
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How much Pochettino intends to stray from Adkins's successful template in the short term will become clearer in the final days of January. With his predecessor fired largely for perceived dithering in the transfer market, more new faces are sure to join alongside Forren before February 1.
This is not a side who require significant tweaking, however. Artur Boruc's confident showing will go a way to calming fears over fielding a reliable goalkeeper while Hooiveld and Guly Do Prado, the two men least capable in Monday's starting XI, will soon make way for Forren and Adam Lallana when fit. Otherwise, the quality is there for all to see.
It will make Friday's events harder to stomach but, for the next 15 matches at least, the Pochettino era could and should be very similar to the Adkins one.
What is certain, though, is that the Southampton faithful are ready to give the new man a fair chance.
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