In today's lunchtime Premier League game, Southampton eviscerated Reading. It was a display of cunning and ruthlessness from Saints, who recorded what must be one of the most convincing 2-0 wins of the season. They have now amassed 37 points, a mark they can reasonably expect to better given their fixture list for the remainder of the campaign. And there, watching from the bench, was the man who had led the club to back-to-back promotions, taking them from the limbo of League One to the holy grail; the man who had signed most of the players dazzling in red.
How cruel that Nigel Adkins was representing Reading rather than Southampton on the day that the latter secured their top flight status.
When Adkins was sacked in January, most saw it as another example of modern football's heartless, short-termist streak. In jettisoning a man whose name was so intertwined with the club's recent history, chairman Nicola Cortesi opened himself up for plenty of abuse. For a time, every Dave Bloke had an opinion on the chop-and-change approach to managerial hiring that had conquered good old English football from without. Adkins was, to many Saints fans and certainly to neutrals, a martyr.
But things look rather different now. These remain early days, but Mauricio Pocchetino looks to be a superb appointment. Young, confident and cosmopolitan (three adjectives that would rarely be used to describe his predecessor), the Spaniard has turned a decent side into a very good one, as convincing wins over Chelsea and Liverpool underlined. With the benefit of a few months' hindsight, Cortesi appears to have been playing the long game; he saw that a fantastic young manager was available and acted swiftly. Collateral damage, while lamentable, could not be avoided.
Perhaps Pocchetino's biggest achievement thus far has been reinvigorating Southampton's frontline. Rickie Lambert had been firing in goals since the start of the season, but of the supporting players only Jason Puncheon and Adam Lallana had produced performances indicative of their talent. Since the managerial switch, two of Saints' most technically gifted players - Jay Rodriguez and Gaston Ramirez - have been used far more frequently, and to devastating effect. Rodriguez in particular has been visibly boosted by his manager's confidence; his strike against Reading was his fourth under Pocchetino. His partnership with Lambert will certainly be one to watch next season if recent games are anything to go by.
But the success stories go beyond Southampton's attack. In midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin has been quietly imperious alongside the busy Jack Cork. Zippy full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, meanwhile, seem destined to attract covetous glances from clubs further up the food chain come summer. The biggest positive for fans of the St Mary's club will be just how young the side is: of the players mentioned, only Lambert is over 30; none of Clyne, Shaw, Ramirez, Lallana, Cork, Schneiderlin and Rodriguez is older than 24. If this side stays together they could be a serious force over the next five years.
Pocchetino does have areas to work on, of course. The Artur Boruc/Kelvin Davis/Paulo Gazzaniga goalkeeping scramble has been both unsettling and unseemly. Given their consistently shaky displays, a fresh start may be the best option here. At centre-back, too, signings should be made. Jose Fonte, Maya Yoshida and Jos Hooiveld may have their supporters on the south coast, but each has been exposed at times this season.
Things can change very quickly in football. This bright new dawn could turn out to be little more than a puff of smoke, especially if Southampton get themselves embroiled in another relegation scrap next term. But for now, Saints fans have every reason to be excited about their side's prospects. They have gone from noble strugglers under Adkins to potential top-half contenders in just over three months. Things can change very quickly in football.
Read more articles by Jack Lang.