Southampton started this season in rather bizarre fashion. The 6-1 defeat to Arsenal and 2-0 home reverse against Wigan Athletic were poor performances yet they pushed both of Manchester’s finest to the very precipice of defeat before succumbing 3-2 in both fixtures. The debate raged about what was going on at Saints. Nigel Adkins was being linked with the sack which even led to the 17th November tie with QPR being dubbed ‘El Sackico’ by the British press as the now unemployed Mark Hughes also struggled to get his side into full steam.
After three seasons of winning Southampton had taken the step up to the Premier League and while much of their attacking play seemed perfectly intact defensively they seemed frail. The blame was laid at the door of Jos Hooiveld, Danny Fox, Kelvin Davis and many more. Maya Yoshida has begun to bed in and the implementation of youngsters Luke Shaw and Paolo Gazzaniga is starting to pay its dividends so those factors obviously help yet the return of Jack Cork cannot be overlooked in its importance.
While Gaston Ramirez in particular shone in the recent win against Newcastle United around him the likes of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jason Puncheon all played their part in tearing a dishevelled Newcastle team apart. Yet the display of Cork in the heart of the midfield cannot be underestimated.
The former Chelsea youth teamer warranted a place in the GB Olympic football team this summer off the back of his impressive performances at St Marys in their successful Championship campaign and went into the season with high hopes of showing a wider audience just why he deserved that call-up.
However this was a doubled edged blade as a busy pre-season saw him injure an already weak ankle and miss the start of the campaign. After making his comeback against Sheffield Wednesday in a September Capital One Cup tie he limped off with just ten minutes remaining; damaging his left knee in a slide tackle with Jermaine Johnson.
Southampton won that game and in the three games since his return from that knee injury they remain unbeaten. The draw with Swansea came about mainly due to a silly mistake between Gazzaniga and Yoshida while the victories against QPR and Newcastle have been very convincing.
His energy and desire to win the ball allow Morgan Schneiderlin to concentrate more on his composed passing game and simply put helps Southampton have more of the ball then has previously been the case with Steven Davis or James Ward-Prowse playing in the middle of the park.
While the fitness of Ramirez is obviously the key to their attacking spark keeping Cork fit gives Southampton the glue that brings the entire concept together.
How important is Jack Cork to Southampton’s Premier League survival?
image: © mischatuffield