Southampton are the Premier League success story that Norwich City boss Alex Neil is keen to emulate as the two sides prepare to clash on Sunday at St Mary’s Stadium.
From League One to the UEFA Europa League in little over four years, Southampton have enjoyed a dramatic and rapid change in fortunes under the stewardship of Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pochettino and current boss Ronald Koeman.
Norwich have followed the same upward trajectory – the Norfolk club competed in the third tier in 2009-10 – and survival and steady growth is the target for Neil, the youngest manager in the top flight.
“I think they are a great example of a club that have come from the Championship to the Premier League and established themselves,” said the Scot.
“The fact they’ve been in Europe shows how well they did last year.”
Any Southampton confidence gained by reaching the Europa League will be dented by the fact they crashed out of the competition in the qualifying play-offs at the hands of Midtjylland on Thursday.
Having guided the south-coast club to their highest league finish in 30 years at the end of his first season in charge, Koeman has endured his first significant setback since succeeding Pochettino.
A tally of two points from their opening three Premier League games has also represented a disappointing start to 2015-16 for Southampton.
Neil observed: “They’ve done exceedingly well to get into the position they’re in. Improving on that can be the hard bit.”
In comparison, Norwich have taken a respectable four points from a possible nine on their return to the top flight, with only a string of fine saves from Jack Butland denying them victory over Stoke City last weekend following a 3-1 success at Sunderland prior to that.
Last season’s Championship play-off winners travel to Southampton without Lewis Grabban, who has been suspended by his club until next Tuesday after going AWOL ahead of the League Cup win at Rotherham United earlier this week.
Bournemouth had a bid rejected for the striker recently and his future is shrouded in mystery.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s first Norwich goal in over two years at Rotherham – he spent last season on loan at Saint-Etienne – was followed by praise from Neil for his professionalism, prompting suggestions that he may be included in the matchday squad having previously been left out this term.
Koeman, meanwhile, will be closely monitoring the fitness of winger Sadio Mane, who watched the Midtjylland game from the bench due to a hip injury, and midfielder Victor Wanyama.
A stomach infection sidelined Wanyama in the play-off second leg.
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