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Southampton making believers of us all

Since 2022 arrived, Southampton has had all the right moves.

Southampton v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

Look at Southampton’s fixtures since the calendar moved to 2022 and try finding an unfavorable result.

What’s there? Maybe the 3-1 loss at Wolves? A disappointment for sure, but hardly a mortal sin committed by virtue of that defeat.

Beyond that, it’s been a steady stream of positivity: wins over clubs in the bottom half of the league table like Brentford, Everton and Norwich. Draws against top teams like Manchesters City and United. A well-deserved win over Tottenham and FA Cup successes against Coventry City and West Ham.

It all adds up to this: Southampton is consistently doing the things that quality football clubs do, instilling belief in even its most fervent doubters.

No, this is not some miraculous revelation, but it is a significant departure from what Southampton was doing for much of 2021, whether that’s applied to the back half of the prior season or the initial half of the current one. This season started with a 3-1 loss at Everton. There’s also a 2-2 draw on Oct. 23 at St. Mary’s against relegation candidate Burnley along with a 2-1 loss to Norwich on Nov. 20 in there. For the first half of the season, it was all wrong.

But it’s headed in the opposite direction once the calendar flipped to 2022.

It’s not just the results, either: the process has been just as good. Southampton thoroughly dominated Everton and Norwich in February. They also outplayed a supposedly superior Tottenham side on the road, with Che Adams’ winning goal giving Saints the result that they deserved.

Perhaps there’s no better example of Southampton’s quality process of late than the 3-1 win over West Ham on Wednesday night, moving Saints on to the FA Cup quarterfinals. The collective reaction of outrage at the starting XI was understandable, given noticeable absences like Stuart Armstrong, Armando Broja and more.

Southampton’s official Twitter account was happy to remind us of that after the victory:

But the players on the sheet didn’t matter, did it? The process was still there. Romain Perraud’s wonder strike put the Saints ahead, Broja came on in the second half and won a penalty that James Ward-Prowse buried and Broja provided the exclamation point with a goal of his own in extra time.

This is how the “big clubs” flourish.

The top teams don’t run at 100 percent for every competition because they don’t have to be at full strength to win, understanding the lengthy, exhausting slog that is a typical football season. They can leave a few players on the bench and still find enough production on the pitch to come away with all three points because the backups understand the process just as much as the starters do. It’s indicative of a culture within every corner of the club focused on doing the right things in the right way to ensure victories are obtained regardless of who’s on the pitch.

Southampton has done that for two months now: it’s easily dispatched of poorer sides, competed well against teams in its own weight class and even punched up at a few of the top dogs to take some points off of them.

Two months are just a fraction of the entire season, of course. And there’s no telling if this is latest form is an anomaly or indicative of Southampton’s future. But it’s been an incredible ride already, with the kind of performances that awaken the loftiest dreams in the back of your mind: trips to Wembley and potential European competition the most immediate of those.

We’ve been here before, of course. The 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons had similar spells before an exodus of players sent Southampton tumbling back down the table. But this club, these players and this manager have rekindled all of those memories, leaving even the most cynical of Saints’ supporters walking around Southampton pondering: “Why not us?”