With less than a quar­ter of the sea­son remain­ing, it is very much the busi­ness end of the Cham­pi­onship.

Southamp­ton have made no secret of the fact the aim for this sea­son has always been an instant return to the Pre­mier League.

Sat in fourth with ten games remain­ing, the Saints are cling­ing onto hopes of an auto­mat­ic pro­mo­tion spot, their two games in hand on Leeds Unit­ed and Ipswich Town and one on Leices­ter City allow­ing their fans to dream.

Rus­sell Mar­tin faces the prospect of his side play­ing their remain­ing ten fix­tures over a peri­od of just 36 days after the inter­na­tion­al break and, whilst he will need to utilise his squad, with so much on the line it is not the time to give play­ers chances to prove them­selves.

Instead, it is very like­ly Mar­tin will look to pick a set­tled side as often as pos­si­ble and allow momen­tum to gath­er in the pro­mo­tion push, mean­ing it will be no sur­prise to see play­ers he con­sid­ers reli­able giv­en the bulk of the game time over the final cou­ple of months of the sea­son.

With that in mind, here are three play­ers who could be the vic­tim of their own incon­sis­ten­cy and find min­utes lim­it­ed dur­ing the pro­mo­tion run-in.

Kamaldeen Sulemana unlikely to be regular starter

Liverpool v Southampton - Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
Pho­to by Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images

Kamaldeen Sule­m­ana joined Southamp­ton on dead­line day of last season’s Jan­u­ary trans­fer win­dow as part of a des­per­ate bid to stay in the Pre­mier League.

The Ghana­ian became Southampton’s record sign­ing in the process, cost­ing £22 mil­lion, but has strug­gled to live up to that price tag. Over a year on from that trans­fer, a brace against Liv­er­pool in a mean­ing­less end of sea­son clash with Southamp­ton already rel­e­gat­ed remain Sulemana’s only goals for the club despite play­ing in the sec­ond tier this sea­son.

Although he only joined the club in the Jan­u­ary, it was a sur­prise when Sule­m­ana remained a Southamp­ton play­er for the start of the sea­son. The 22-year-old start­ed the cam­paign injured and also picked up a nig­gle in Novem­ber just as he was start­ing to find him­self in Martin’s side reg­u­lar­ly, but his three assists and no goals in 20 Cham­pi­onship appear­ances is still an incred­i­bly poor return for a play­er of Sulemana’s tal­ents.

With the reli­able pres­ence of Ryan Fras­er set to return from injury after the inter­na­tion­al break, Sam Edozie impress­ing on a reg­u­lar basis and the fact that Adam Arm­strong has recent­ly been lin­ing up in Sulemana’s favoured left wing posi­tion to accom­mo­date David Brooks on the right, it feels as though Sulemana’s incon­sis­ten­cy will see him strug­gle to get into the team at this crit­i­cal junc­ture in the cam­paign.

Speak­ing on Sule­m­ana, trans­fer insid­er Dean Jones told Give Me Sport: “He’s got that edge about him. It just needs to be seen more fre­quent­ly and that’s prob­a­bly what’s frus­trat­ing to Rus­sell Mar­tin. The fact that he’s got so much poten­tial, but at the moment, you look at his stats, and there’s noth­ing there to show for it. So that’s frus­trat­ing.”

Sule­m­ana is incred­i­bly quick and record­ed the fast­ed record­ed speed at the 2022 World Cup (35.7 kilo­me­tres per hour), but he is very raw and his demeanour can mean he looks dis­in­ter­est­ed at times. If Southamp­ton are strug­gling to break down their oppo­nents then Mar­tin may well turn to the super­charged winger late in games, but it would be a sur­prise to see the for­mer Rennes man start too many games between now and the end of the sea­son.

Sekou Mara yet to earn Russell Martin trust

FBL-ENG-FACUP-LIVERPOOL-SOUTHAMPTON
Pho­to by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Get­ty Images

Anoth­er young play­er who clear­ly has tal­ent but has been unable to turn it into reli­able per­for­mances is Sek­ou Mara.

The French strik­er is a play­er who has flat­tered to deceive and after a run of impres­sive cameos off the bench dur­ing the fes­tive peri­od has been unable to deliv­er when start­ing games.

It is dif­fi­cult to be too crit­i­cal of Mara giv­en both the fact he is just 21 and he has only start­ed three Cham­pi­onship games – espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er the impor­tance of the match-win­ning goal and assist he pro­vid­ed in the recent 5–3 come­back win over Hud­der­s­field Town – but it is dif­fi­cult to envis­age a sce­nario where Mar­tin opts for the young­ster over the expe­ri­ence of either Che Adams or Adam Arm­strong in the run-in.

In Southampton’s past three league games, Mara has man­aged just 11 min­utes. There are only real­ly two sce­nar­ios in which Mara is like­ly to get mean­ing­ful min­utes in the remain­ing ten games of the sea­son and that is if the Saints are fran­ti­cal­ly chas­ing a game they are los­ing or are so com­fort­ably in the lead they feel they can take off their start­ing cen­tre for­ward.

For a play­er with such lim­it­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties, Mara’s haul of six goals and two assists in all com­pe­ti­tions is not bad, but even if one of Adams or Arm­strong falls vic­tim to injury it feels most like­ly that Mar­tin will find a solu­tion that does not rely on the for­mer Bor­deaux man being the main strik­er.

Shea Charles down the midfield pecking order

Southampton FC v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet Championship
Pho­to by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Get­ty Images

When Shea Charles arrived from Man­ches­ter City for a fee poten­tial­ly ris­ing to £15 mil­lion in the sum­mer a lot was expect­ed of the young mid­field­er.

Per­haps some of this expec­ta­tion was a lit­tle mis­guid­ed and dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly high giv­en the suc­cess of Roméo Lavia just a sea­son ear­li­er when mak­ing the same move, but Charles has had an up and down sea­son.

One of the rea­sons behind the sign­ing of Charles was his ver­sa­til­i­ty, how­ev­er it could be argued this has also worked against the 20-year-old as he has strug­gled to tie down a reg­u­lar place in the team in any one posi­tion. At the begin­ning of the cam­paign, Mar­tin used the North­ern Ire­land util­i­ty man as a cen­tral defend­er, but he has also played as a hold­ing mid­field­er, a box-to-box cen­tral mid­field­er and even a right-back.

Charles has start­ed 13 league games in what is his first sea­son of senior foot­ball and has shown glimpses of qual­i­ty but has also real­ly strug­gled at times. Despite pri­mar­i­ly being viewed as a hold­ing mid­field play­er, Charles has strug­gled when asked to play as the anchor in the mid­dle of the pitch and looked more com­fort­able slight­ly more advanced, mean­ing that Will Small­bone has been the play­er to drop back into the ‘6’ role when Fly­nn Downes has been absent.

Now that Downes has returned and Small­bone looks to have the favour of his man­ag­er – as well as the mid­field boast­ing options such as Stu­art Arm­strong, Joe Roth­well and Joe Ari­bo – Charles may not start anoth­er league game this sea­son. This would reflect a recent pat­tern, with the mid­field­er an unused sub­sti­tute in the last four Cham­pi­onship games.

Whilst he may lose out to expe­ri­ence at the back­end of this sea­son, Charles’ time will come and the learn­ing curve of his first sea­son in senior foot­ball will stand him in very good stead for a suc­cess­ful Southamp­ton career.

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