Axe poised to fall on Saints' Adkins
Loyalty can go only so far as Southampton's defensive frailties ensure they stay stuck at the foot of the Premier League table
Who would want to be Southampton manager Nigel Adkins this weekend? Down on the south coast of England and ahead of a must-win game against Swansea today, the boss of the EPL basement club is, to coin a term (and borrow heavily from the 1995 Sean Penn Hollywood hit Dead Man Walking), a sacked manager working.
Adkins, 47, has been in crisis talks with executive chairman Nicola Cortese, who is said to be furious with the club's horrendous start to the season, underscored by last Monday's dismal 2-0 defeat away by West Brom. You would think that the final straw was already broken with the sieve masquerading as a defence leaking 28 goals in 10 league outings and losing eight of them.
Even the perpetually optimistic Adkins has, in his most recent interviews, admitted he believes he will be the first for the chop this season. The manager is liked for his glass half-full, cheery nature, but his wilful admission about his team's hopeless start is a metaphorical undoing of his top button in anticipation of the pending guillotine strike.
It's been reported Cortese wants a replacement in place before he jettisons Adkins and has been sounding out two colourful fellow Italians to shed hope and light on St Mary's foreboding gloom. Paolo Di Canio, the boss of League One Swindon, and Gianluca Vialli, the former Chelsea manager, are both believed to have been approached by Cortese.
Even-ex Saints bosses Gordon Strachan and Harry Rednapp are said to be under consideration, though the former would need a lot of persuading to return after leaving the club acrimoniously in 2004 - plus he is also heavily linked with the Scotland job. The latter, serial trouble-shooter Rednapp, is also an unlikely replacement given his acrimonious and brief tenure, which ended by him driving the few, treacherous kilometres down the coast to Portsmouth.
But it is perhaps too early to chime the tolling bell for Adkins. Despite the appalling goals-against stats, he still has the backing of the board and the worshipping fans, who loudly sang his name even after the humiliating defeat at the Hawthorns on Monday, albeit reluctantly. He will then be served a few more times in the Last Chance Saloon given all that he has done for the club. And despite the disappointing start, Adkins has stuck to the brief demanded of him by his employer.
Cortese set out his ambitious five-year plan for the club way back in 2009 when Southampton were scrapping away in the third tier. He said he expected the club to be in the EPL by the end of 2014 and playing spell-binding winning football with the cult of youth reviving glory days of old - sparkling young footballers, many drawn from the banks of Southampton Water and moulded at the club's celebrated academy.
The side were 22nd in League One when Adkins took over in September 2010 and the upwards trajectory has been nothing short of genius. He has completed Cortese's mission in half the time - a remarkable feat that demands and deserves loyalty, a commodity rarely traded within the revolving door of the English game.
It's been a daunting return to the EPL after a seven-year absence. Southampton have faced six of the top 10 clubs since the start of the season and now "enjoy" a few weekends' respite from the onslaught. After today's home clash with Swansea, they travel to fellow strugglers QPR and then entertain Newcastle and Norwich at St Mary's.
You would have thought the board would keep Adkins as calm as possible during this vital period so the media reports about replacements waiting in the wings seem counter-productive. But the slump in fortune has thrown up a classic dilemma for the chairman, the board and fans.
Former banker Cortese is known to be ruthless in his ambition and has been reported as saying a yo-yo existence between the EPL and the Championship is not the Southampton way and that relegation is "completely unacceptable".
Loyalty is to be much admired but there is little room, nor time, for sentimentality. Rot quickly festers and dressing-room morale can perish in the blink of a nervous eye. Adkins knows only too well the board's patience is finite and that its demands - with so much TV money at stake - are far higher than they were last season.
There are glimmers of hope. The summer outlay brought in Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis, Jay Rodriguez and Gastón Ramírez - all top-draw players who are still gelling. And the football is of the progressive type - Southampton have scored more goals than Liverpool and only one fewer than Arsenal.
It is the woeful defence that needs urgent addressing. If Adkins can plug the leaks, smash and grab points until the January transfer window, he might well be turned away from the gallows and silence the "sacked manager working" calls echoing down the increasingly lonely corridors of St Mary's.