SAINTS are less than a week away from the return of league action and the start of a vital pro­mo­tion run-in.

Rus­sell Mar­t­in’s side have ground to make up in the race to the Pre­mier League — they cur­rent­ly sit nine points off the pace with two games in hand.

With 10 games to be played in just 36 days, it will be hard to look beyond the oppo­nent in front of them and Saints can ill afford to drop any points.

Here we assess who Southamp­ton face in their next five match­es and what can be expect­ed…

Oppo­nent: Mid­dles­bor­ough (Home)

Date: Fri­day, March 29

Posi­tion in the table: 10th

Key play­er: Luke Ayling

Mid­dles­bor­ough will be Southamp­ton’s first oppo­nents after an extend­ed inter­na­tion­al break. The Good Fri­day fix­ture will also mark the start of the hec­tic pro­mo­tion sched­ule.

Boro record­ed their first win of the sea­son over Saints, who fell to a fourth straight defeat hav­ing thrown away a one-goal lead.

Both sides have grown a lot since then, but Mar­t­in’s side will still seek revenge for their pre­vi­ous fail­ure.

Michael Car­rick­’s side are unbeat­en in their last four games and have done the dou­ble over Leices­ter. 

Saints will need to avoid becom­ing the sec­ond pro­mo­tion chasers to suf­fer that fate. 

On-loan defend­er Luke Ayling could do his par­ent club Leeds a huge favour if he helps Boro to a pos­i­tive result over Saints.

Oppo­nent: Ipswich Town (Away)

Date: Mon­day, April 1

Posi­tion in the table: 3rd

Key play­er: Leif Davis

Much like Mid­dles­bor­ough, Ipswich beat Southamp­ton dur­ing their four-game los­ing streak ear­ly in the sea­son.

After a rocky patch of form a few months back, Kier­an McKen­na’s side have won sev­en of their last eight games.

It’s dif­fi­cult to pick out one key play­er for the Trac­tor Boys this sea­son but full-back Leif Davis stands out as their biggest goal-cre­ation threat.

The Leeds Acad­e­my prod­uct has pro­vid­ed 17 assists this sea­son, the joint most along­side Georginio Rut­ter.

Oppo­nent: Black­burn Rovers (Away)

Date: Sat­ur­day, April 6

Posi­tion in the table: 17th

Key play­er: Sam­mie Szmod­ics

Southamp­ton will be firm favourites when they take on a Black­burn side who are with­out a win in nine games across the league and cup,

The for­mer Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons have become draw spe­cial­ists in recent weeks. Six of their last sev­en league fix­tures have end­ed lev­el.

Cham­pi­onship top goalscor­er Sam­mie Szmod­ics will be one to watch for a strug­gling Black­burn. The Irish inter­na­tion­al has scored 21 goals this sea­son, three more than Adam Arm­strong.

Oppo­nent: Coven­try City (Home)

Date: Tues­day, April 9

Posi­tion in the table: 8th

Key play­er: Haji Wright

After two back-to-back away trips, Southamp­ton wel­come Mark Robins’ Sky Blues to St Mary’s for the first of three straight home fix­tures.

A Sam Edozie equalis­er saw Saints secure a 1–1 draw at the Coven­try Build­ing Soci­ety Are­na back in mid-Decem­ber. 

Coven­try have their ambi­tions set on reach­ing the play­offs while Saints will be hop­ing to claim three points which will take them clos­er to the auto­mat­ic berths. 

Attack­ers Haji Wright and Ellis Simms have scored a com­bined 14 goals across their last five games for club and coun­try.

Oppo­nent: Wat­ford (Home)

Date: Sat­ur­day, April 13

Posi­tion in the table: 13th

Key play­er: Ryan Andrews

Wat­ford are Southamp­ton’s most famil­iar oppo­nent this sea­son with the two sides hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly met three times already dur­ing the 2023–24 cam­paign.

They record­ed two 1–1 draws at Vic­arage Road (across the league and FA Cup) before thrash­ing Vale­rien Ismael’s Hor­nets 3–0 in a Feb­ru­ary replay.

Wat­ford are cur­rent­ly being man­aged by inter­im boss Tom Clev­er­ly, who record­ed a 1–0 win over Birm­ing­ham City in his first game in charge.

Ryan Andrews, 20, has impressed in every game against the south coast side this sea­son and will need anoth­er strong show­ing to pre­vent Southamp­ton’s front three from run­ning ram­pant.