Southamp­ton have ten Cham­pi­onship games remain­ing this sea­son as they look to secure a return to the Pre­mier League at the first attempt.

It has been a large­ly pos­i­tive sea­son, with a record break­ing 25-game unbeat­en run between the end of Sep­tem­ber and the start of Feb­ru­ary a real cause for opti­mism fol­low­ing four defeats in a row. Since that run came to an end, Southampton‘s form has been indif­fer­ent, with four defeats in the last sev­en in all com­pe­ti­tions and 17 goals con­ced­ed in that time.

Giv­en the com­plete over­haul of play­ing style that came with the appoint­ment of the pos­ses­sion-focussed Rus­sell Mar­tin in the sum­mer, Southampton’s play­ers have adapt­ed well and are becom­ing increas­ing­ly con­fi­dent in their manager’s tac­tics.

In most Cham­pi­onship sea­sons, Southampton’s 73 points after 36 games would see them in the top two, but such has been the qual­i­ty of Leices­ter City, Ipswich Town and Leeds Unit­ed, that the Saints are in fourth and eight points off the auto­mat­ic pro­mo­tions places, albeit with two games in hand on Ipswich in sec­ond.

Due to the post­pone­ment of the Saints’ home game against Pre­ston due to a fire close to St Mary’s Sta­di­um and Leicester’s FA Cup endeav­ours mean­ing Southamp­ton have been with­out a game since last weekend’s 4–2 win over Sun­der­land, Martin’s side face the prospect of play­ing their remain­ing ten games across a peri­od of just 36 days.

With a game on aver­age every 3.6 days in the run-in, Southampton’s squad will be test­ed to its lim­its as they chase a Pre­mier League return.

What has Russell Martin said on Southampton scheduling?

Southampton Training and Press Conference
Pho­to by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Get­ty Images

Speak­ing about the intense sched­ul­ing between now and the end of the sea­son ahead of the win over Sun­der­land, Mar­tin con­ced­ed: “It is what it is”.

The Saints boss went on to say: “I don’t know if it will be pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive. We won’t know until the end of the sea­son.

“We are in the midst of a real­ly relent­less peri­od and now we have to face anoth­er one from the end of March and April.

“I don’t know if it will be good or bad but it’s not ide­al that we will look at the league and teams will have played two more games than us”.

Momen­tum is a mas­sive thing in foot­ball and if Southamp­ton find their rhythm they will wel­come games com­ing thick and fast. The flip-side of that, though, is that if they are not win­ning there is effec­tive­ly no time on the train­ing ground to put things right.

There is also an increased risk of injuries and the fact that any play­ers pick­ing up injuries are like­ly to miss mul­ti­ple games due to the prox­im­i­ty of fix­tures.

Martin will have no choice but to rotate in race for promotion

Birmingham City v Southampton FC - Sky Bet Championship
Pho­to by Cameron Smith/Getty Images

Whilst Mar­tin will not use the run of fix­tures between now and the end of the sea­son as an excuse should Southamp­ton miss out on pro­mo­tion, it is unde­ni­able that it makes his job more dif­fi­cult.

With games com­ing so fre­quent­ly, Mar­tin will not be afford­ed the lux­u­ry of nam­ing a con­sis­tent, set­tled side for the final ten games. It sim­ply won’t be pos­si­ble for the same 11 play­ers to start every game and there­fore Mar­tin will have to man­age his squad.

Whilst pro­mo­tion rivals Leices­ter, Ipswich and Leeds may be able to put out pret­ty much the same side each game, Mar­tin will have to be slight­ly more adapt­able. The squad will be test­ed to its lim­its, but Southamp­ton do have a big squad full of qual­i­ty and should be con­fi­dent they are good enough to beat most sides in the Cham­pi­onship with whichev­er team Mar­tin opts for.

Southamp­ton still have to trav­el to all three of the sides above them in the final stretch and these games will be huge­ly influ­en­tial in deter­min­ing the fate of all four sides.

The away clash at Elland Road on the final day on the final day of the sea­son has the poten­tial to have seis­mic reper­cus­sions for the pro­mo­tion bat­tle. Southamp­ton just have to hope they go into that game with their fate in their own hands.