Football: Reports of Southampton's collapse seem premature as the Saints thrash Newcastle 4-0

LONDON (Reuters) - When Morgan Schneiderlin curled in Southampton's fourth goal of the 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle at the weekend, it capped off a mesmerising 41-pass move. Moreover, though, it further blew away a cloud of gloom that had hovered over the south coast stadium since the summer.

Even in the rhetoric-rich environment of tabloid football coverage, the Saints had received lurid treatment. Southampton were a rudderless, sinking ship, driven by an inexperienced chairman. New manager Ronald Koeman was a man left standing on a burning deck.

'Exodus!" numerous headlines shouted, with more than one news outlet mocking what it called a fire sale. "Roll up, roll up, get your international players here," one website smirked.

The club was unambitious and there was only one way Southampton were headed - and that was further south. However, nobody, it seems, bothered explaining that new reality to the players. Or perhaps Koeman did.

Just four matches into the season Southampton are flying high in fourth spot. It is, of course, too early to be predicting great things for Koeman's team, but it is perhaps not too early to dispel the spittle-flecked scaremongering of the summer.

Pundits and commentators had been queuing up to read Southampton their Premier League last rites, but now at least one has publicly thought again.

"After a mass exodus of players at St Mary's during the close season I tipped Southampton to go down," BBC pundit and former Manchester United striker Garth Crooks said, evoking the 'E' word once more. "I think I may owe Saints fans an apology."

Nobody at St Mary's expects an apology, but perhaps fewer experts will now dismiss chairman Ralph Kreuger's assertion that the Saints are stronger since the transfer window.

"We think we've made good business decisions, good sports decisions," Krueger told local BBC Radio Solent. "We have a team which is filled with character and, we feel, more depth in the line-up and I think that's something that was the goal from the get-go. Last season we played from a starting 11 and there was not much behind it. I feel we are (now) in a really strong position."

Man for man, there is an argument that Southampton replaced the departing characters with men of at least equal calibre. Coach Mauricio Pochettino, who quit for Tottenham, was replaced by former Ajax and Feyenoord coach Koeman.

The hole created by the exit of England full-back Luke Shaw - a 27 million pounds (S$55 million) acquisition for Manchester United - was plugged with the loan signing of Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand, a player with a Champions League winners' medal.

Serbian international midfielder Dusan Tadic, a signing from FC Twente, is looking lively in the space previously inhabited by Adam Lallana, who joined Liverpool for 25 million pounds.

Dejan Lovren's exit was one of the more acrimonious, but utility defender Toby Alderweireld's arrival from Atletico Madrid has Saints fans smiling and looking forward rather than back.

Burly Italian forward Graziano Pelle has bagged four goals in his first five appearances for Southampton, while the man he replaced, Rickie Lambert, is yet to get off the mark at Liverpool.

Throw into the mix an England goalkeeper in Fraser Forster, and Senegalese striker Sadio Mane yet to make his start, all signs are that the future is bright on the south coast.

Certainly a 4-0 thumping of a weak Newcastle is insufficient basis for any grand predictions, but the style and swagger of Southampton's early play may be causing some to pause for thought.

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