Jan 22 (Reuters) - Southampton threw up a defensive wall around both their goal and their new Argentine manager on Monday, repelling a high-flying Everton side as well as a threatened fans’ protest at St Mary‘s.
Having replaced the sacked Nigel Adkins on Friday, Mauricio Pochettino was braced for a fiery baptism at home as fans used social media all weekend to vent their fury at chairman Nicola Cortese’s treatment of the revered Adkins.
But a full-blooded 0-0 battle with fifth-placed Everton - a clean sheet against a visiting side who had scored in their last nine away matches - kept fans firmly behind the team as players rallied behind Pochettino.
“Everyone is behind the new coaching staff and the new gaffer, and tonight we showed that,” Saints’ midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin said.
The point nudged Southampton further away from danger. They sit 15th with 23 points, four above the drop zone.
Having lost eight of their first 10 Premier League matches, Saints have now suffered only two defeats in their last 13 league outings.
The credit for that turnaround lies squarely with the ousted Adkins - a factor which has infuriated fans, but which was in part acknowledged by Pochettino, according to Schneiderlin.
“He (Pochettino) said to us that he didn’t want to change too many things tonight because he didn’t want us to try to learn too many things too quickly,” the Frenchman told Southampton’s TV channel SaintsPlayer.
“We put in a good shift and I think we could have won the game, so I‘m sure we will win some more games if we keep playing like that.”
Southampton fans seemed to agree, posting their satisfaction with the performance on social networks and newspaper comment sections.
While slightly disappointed not to bag all three points, Pochettino was thrilled by the fans’ reaction to the match and his presence in the dugout.
“I really felt that kindness, and I‘m very grateful for the reception I was given and my staff as well,” he said through an interpreter.
“Everything I was told about Southampton supporters is true, they’re very kind and they really support their team so I just want to repay them with honesty and work as I‘m very proud to be their manager.”
If Pochettino was warmed by his reception on a wintry night in Southampton, he might brace himself for Saints’ next match which will likely prove less comfortable on the pitch at least.
The Saints travel to Old Trafford and league leaders Manchester United on Jan. 30. (Writing by Ossian Shine in Singapore; Editing by Patrick Johnston)