London – Premier League side Southampton will be hoping their return to the English top flight proves to be a season of two halves as they fight to preserve their elite status, and the signs look promising.
Jason Puncheon's searing volley clinched a point at European champions Chelsea on Wednesday, and kept the visitor's newly found momentum ticking.
The 2-2 draw gave Saints five points from their last three games – the first three after the midway point of the season.
In contrast, it took Nigel Adkins' side 11 games to amass their first five points.
Having been humiliated 5-1 at home by Chelsea in the FA Cup less than two weeks ago, Southampton might have been forgiven for approaching the Londoners' lair with trepidation.
The omens were hardly encouraging when they fell behind 2-0 by halftime but a firm headed goal by Saints' leading goalscorer Rickie Lambert clawed the visitors back into it.
Puncheon's superb strike 15 minutes from the end grabbed a share of the points.
“This is a massive point for us especially away at a place like Chelsea,” Puncheon said. “It's 12 games that we've got 18 points from now,” he continued.
“And, if you compare that with the first five or 10 matches then there's a big difference which is good to see, and we're all buzzing really.”
Having lost eight of their first 10 Premier League matches, Saints desperately reshuffled their defence and as a result have suffered only two defeats in their last 10 league outings.
Manager Adkins praised his side's resilience at Chelsea, a quality which will likely prove vital in a second half of their campaign.
“The two goals that we conceded we could have cleared a little bit better in the penalty area, especially the one right before half time.
“That could have been a real sucker blow – as it was in the FA Cup when they scored against us right before half time – but the players showed great character to come out in the second half and stick to the game plan,” he told Southampton's club television SaintsPlayer.
“We had great impact coming off the bench and to go and claw two goals back the players deserve real credit.”
While the focus of Adkins' message was teamwork and communal effort, he did reserve a word of praise for Puncheon's strike – a goal straight out of the book of Southampton great Matt le Tissier.
“Wow – what a finish,” the manager smiled.
Southampton lie in 15th spot with 22 points, three points and three places above the drop zone.
Manchester United lead the standings with 55 points, seven ahead of their local rivals and reigning champions Manchester City, with Chelsea in third a further six points back. – Reuters