Southampton will be looking to make it eight games without defeat on Saturday afternoon when they welcome promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion to St Mary’s Stadium in the Championship.
The Saints secured a final-minute winner at Millwall last time out to continue their climb up the standings, whilst the Baggies made much easier work of Liam Rosenior‘s Hull City at The Hawthorns.
Southampton extended their unbeaten run in the Championship to seven matches last weekend with a last-gasp success over a Millwall side entering a new era without the leadership of Gary Rowett, with Scotland international and Newcastle United loanee Ryan Fraser netting the contest’s only goal in the 93rd minute.
After a decade-long spell in the Premier League came to an end in May, ex-Swansea City boss Russell Martin has been tasked with returning the Saints to the top flight at the first attempt, and following a worrying four-game losing streak in September, the South Coast club were almost flawless in October to rise up the division.
The Saints are currently occupying fourth position in the second-tier standings ahead of this weekend’s visit of West Brom, sitting nine points behind second-placed Ipswich Town and 12 points back from league leaders Leicester City, who have adapted seamlessly to the management of Enzo Maresca.
Martin’s route to short-term Saints success has been less straightforward – especially with the likes of Jack Stephens struggling to fit into the head coach’s progressive style during the opening few matches – however a return of 17 points from their last seven matches suggests that this weekend’s hosts are on course for a top-six finish at least.
Southampton lost a host of key first-team stars such as Romeo Lavia and club captain James Ward-Prowse in the summer, however the form of second-tier specialist Adam Armstrong has softened the blow significantly, with the 26-year-old netting eight goals in 15 Championship appearances so far.
With a multitude of concerns surrounding the future of the club and its ownership swirling around The Hawthorns, West Brom head coach Carlos Corberan is doing his utmost to keep the playing side of the situation running smoothly, with the Baggies stretching their unbeaten run by defeating Hull 3-1 last weekend.
Jed Wallace put the Albion ahead in the Black Country after 15 minutes before right-back Lewie Coyle equalised for the visiting Tigers, however second-half strikes from the always-reliable Matt Phillips and Semi Ajayi secured West Brom’s seventh victory of the 2023-24 league campaign.
Grabbing a pair of assists last time out, Grady Diangana is starting to shine once again in the West Midlands after troubled spells under the stewardships of Valerien Ismael and Steve Bruce, with the former West Ham United youngster showing glimpses of how he and Matheus Pereira tore the division apart in the 2019/20 season.
After collecting 10 points from an available 12 following October’s international break, West Brom are fifth in the Championship standings, one point and one place below the Saints, and it is possible for the Baggies to climb above Leeds United into third with a maximum at St Mary’s on Saturday.
The last time Albion supporters travelled down to the South Coast for a meeting with Southampton was in October 2017, when Moroccan attacker Sofiane Boufal scored a remarkable solo goal to beat Tony Pulis‘s side, with the Baggies being relegated from the Premier League later that season.
Southampton could be handed a major boost to their forward options on Saturday afternoon, with summer signing Ross Stewart set to be included in a first-team squad for the first time since his Achilles injury sustained whilst playing for Sunderland in January.
Martin will have to find a new partner for Taylor Harwood-Bellis at the heart of the hosts’ backline after Jan Bednarek picked up his fifth caution of the term at Millwall, with Shea Charles and former Albion man Mason Holgate candidates to enter the XI.
Despite scoring the winning goal at The Den last weekend, Fraser is expected to be named amongst the substitutes once again, meaning Carlos Alcaraz and Kamaldeen Sulemana will be tasked with providing the service from the flanks for Armstrong.
As West Brom’s Nigeria international Ajayi returned from a period out against Hull, fellow centre-back Kyle Bartley picked up a shoulder injury and was subsequently forced off in the early stages of the second period.
With Josh Maja and Daryl Dike not expected back in action until late November and December respectively, Brandon Thomas-Asante will continue to lead the Albion attack with his tireless running and eye for a spectacular strike.
Jeremy Sarmiento has returned to the matchday squad following his spell on the sidelines, although the Ecuador international is struggling to cement a regular place in the Baggies XI since moving on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion.
Southampton possible starting lineup:
Bazunu; Walker-Peters, Harwood-Bellis, Charles, Bree; Smallbone, Downes, S Armstrong, Alcaraz, Sulemana, A Armstrong
West Bromwich Albion possible starting lineup:
Palmer; Kipre, Ajayi, Townsend; Furlong, Yokuslu, Mowatt, Phillips; Diangana, Wallace, Thomas-Asante