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Apr 6, 2013

Upwardly mobile Saints sink Adkins

The Adkins derby, then, ends with Reading dropping a weight and Southampton looking leaner and fitter than ever.

At this juncture, in fact, it's very difficult to argue that Nicola Cortese did not make the right decision in replacing Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino.

• Keen: Reading season epitomised
• Rann: Saints dethrone Royals

The Argentine has given a strong signal of his quality by claiming such hugely impressive victories against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. It was something of an anomaly, though, that he had not yet seen a win against any of the lesser sides as Southampton even struggled much more in those games. Most notable was the 2-1 home defeat to QPR that so checked their momentum.

As such, it is probably fitting they all but secured safety and suggested such a rising team by finally beating one of the clubs around them. After this performance, which was also their first away win, it is difficult to imagine this much more rounded team in a similar situation next season. As if to further emphasise the side's evolution, Pochettino spoke of how they didn't play their usual pressing game - which worked so well against better sides - given that the ball spent so long in the air. In other words, this young side learned.

Because, not only do Southampton have a core of players - such as Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez, Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne - who are all 23 and younger, they have a genuinely promising young manager who favours a proactive style that ensures they try and play every game on their terms.

More than anything, Pochettino has given Southampton a clearly defined identity and structure that wasn't always so evident under his predecessor. Going against the general grain and trends of football decision-making, it is possible the club made the appointment at precisely the right time by ousting Adkins at his absolute peak and bringing in a coach who was capable of going even higher from that point.

Adkins, of course, had his name rightfully sung by the travelling fans here, and it is difficult to be critical of him in any way given Reading's predicament and the fact this was only his first home game.

Even if Adam Le Fondre had scored that easy chance on 19 minutes after a decent opening spell, Southampton always looked like they had plenty in reserve to respond. Indeed, this match never really felt like a do-or-die in which both teams were at full pelt, despite the edge supposedly added by the managerial issues.

To a degree, that can probably be put down to their situations. Reading were a little too far off safety to be really serious about survival; Southampton had those points in the bank to ensure any slip here wouldn't have been a complete disaster.

And, eventually, that difference in position told. Having seen Artur Boruc save well from a Hal Robson-Kanu header and a possible Reading penalty waved away, Southampton simply punished the home side with superior football.

By playing what is becoming something of a Southampton trademark with a dinked pass that catches opposition defenders on the spin, the impressive Rickie Lambert returned Jay Rodriguez's ball to leave the livewire forward bearing down on goal. Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici responded far too slowly, allowing the number nine to prod the ball home.

The game's 72nd minute clincher involved a much cleaner finish but also many of the same elements: a chipped Lambert pass, a slow Federici reaction. This time, though, Adam Lallana slotted home superbly.

With Rodriguez having earlier hit the bar and substitute Guly Do Prado also missing a late open goal, Southampton's dominance was eventually so complete that it created another dimension to an already layered post-match press conference.

Adkins had to reflect on a defeat to his old club in his first game at a new home, Pochettino had to pay respect to his well-vanquished predecessor. The differences, though, were further emphasised in their demeanours.

The Argentine was all clear logic; Adkins all positive psychology and jargon. The second sentence of the Reading manager's press conference featured his favoured words of "analyse", "process" and "debrief".

As much as Adkins may seem to have become something of a caricature in that sense, though, the truth is that he had little option in this case. The situation must have been almost as difficult as his position.

At one point, it was put to Adkins whether he would exchange any of his Reading players for those in the Southampton squad. He refused to answer the question, but still maintained magnanimity.

When asked whether he still felt it was a "wonderful world" as he stated recently, for example, his response was immediate."Too right it is. Too right it is. It's a challenge, a great challenge. Someone's got to go and do it. I'm embracing the challenge."

At the same time, he wasn't making his usual rallying calls about staying up and insisted on "facing the reality of the situation."

"We're at the wrong end of the table," Adkins said. "Everyone's well aware of that. Maybe the best thing to do is not even look at the league table."

Southampton, however, can view it with much more comfort. Ever the rationalist, though, Pochettino refused to speak of now being safe."The one thing I'm sure of is that we put in a great performance today. Our goal is the next game against West Ham," he said. "There's a great structure at this club."

Now, too, there's a very promising future. And, with this win, all the issues around their former manager can finally be consigned to the past.

Adkins and Reading, meanwhile, seem consigned to the Championship.

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