April 24, 2024

With less than a quarter of the season left, the Championship is rapidly approaching its conclusion.

Southampton have made it clear that their goal for this season has always been to return to the Premier League immediately.

The Saints sit fourth with ten games remaining, clinging to dreams of automatic promotion, with two games in hand on Leeds United and Ipswich Town, as well as one on Leicester City, allowing their fans to dream.

Russell Martin confronts the prospect of playing his side’s remaining ten fixtures in only 36 days after the international break, and while he will need to use his squad, with so much on the line, now is not the time to offer them opportunities to show themselves.

Instead, Martin is expected to select a settled side as often as possible in order to build momentum in the promotion push, therefore it will come as no surprise to see individuals he considers reliable handed the majority of game time in the final few months of the season.

With this in mind, here are three players who may be the victim of their own inconsistency and find minutes  limited during the promotion run-in.

Kamaldeen Sulemana unlikely to be regular starter

Kamaldeen Sulemana - Player profile 23/24 | Transfermarkt

 

Kamaldeen Sulemana joined Southampton on the final day of last season’s January transfer window, in a desperate attempt to stay in the Premier League.

The Ghanaian became Southampton’s record acquisition at £22 million, but has struggled to live up to that price. Over a year later, despite playing in the second division this season, Sulemana’s sole goals for the club are a brace against Liverpool in a meaningless end-of-season meeting with Southampton, who had already been relegated.

Sulemana only joined the club in January, thus it was surprising that he remained a Southampton player at the start of the season. The 22-year-old began the season injured and picked up a niggle in November just as he was starting to find his way into Martin’s side on a regular basis, but his three assists and no goals in 20 Championship outings is still an extraordinarily low return for a player of Sulemana’s abilities.

With Ryan Fraser expected to return from injury after the international break, Sam Edozie impressing on a regular basis, and Adam Armstrong recently lining up in Sulemana’s preferred left wing position to accommodate David Brooks on the right, it appears that Sulemana’s inconsistency will make it difficult for him to break into the team at this critical juncture in the season.

Speaking about Sulemana, transfer source Dean Jones told Give Me Sport: “He has that edge about him. It just has to be seen more regularly, which is presumably what Russell Martin is frustrated about. He has so much potential, but when you look at his stats right now, there’s nothing to show for it. So that is frustrating.”

Sulemana is extremely swift, having recorded the fastest recorded speed at the 2022 World Cup (35.7 kilometres per hour), yet he is quite raw, and his temperament can appear indifferent at times. If Southampton is struggling to break down their opponents, Martin may turn to the explosive winger late in games, but it would be surprising to see the former Rennes player start too many games between now and the end of the season.

Sekou Mara yet to earn Russell Martin trust

Sékou Mara - Player profile 23/24 | Transfermarkt

 

Sekou Mara is another young athlete with obvious talent but has yet to produce consistent results.

The French striker has flattered to deceive, and after a string of brilliant cameos off the bench during the holidays, he has struggled to deliver when starting.

It is difficult to be too critical of Mara given that he is only 21 years old and has only started three Championship games – especially given the significance of the match-winning goal and assist he provided in the recent 5-3 comeback win over Huddersfield Town – but it is difficult to imagine Martin choosing the youngster over the experience of either Che Adams or Adam Armstrong in the run-in.

In Southampton’s last three league games, Mara has played only 11 minutes. There are only two scenarios in which Mara is likely to play meaningful minutes in the next ten games of the season: the Saints are desperately chasing a game they are losing or they are so comfortably ahead that they believe they can rest their starting centre forward.

For a player with so few opportunities, Mara’s six goals and two assists in all competitions is not bad, but even if one of Adams or Armstrong is injured, Martin is likely to find a solution that does not rely on the former Bordeaux man to be the main striker.

Shea Charles down the midfield pecking order

BBC Radio Solent - Southampton FC, Southampton's Shea Charles reflects on  his Southampton career so far

 

When Shea Charles joined from Manchester City for a fee that might rise to £15 million in the summer, there were high expectations for the young midfielder.

Perhaps some of this expectation was incorrect and unduly high given Roméo Lavia’s success in making the similar move a season earlier, but Charles has had an up and down season.

Charles’ versatility was one of the reasons he was signed, although it could be said that this has worked against him since he has struggled to establish himself as a regular in any one position. Martin started the season with the Northern Ireland utility player as a central defender, but he has also played as a holding midfielder, box-to-box central midfielder, and right-back.

Charles has started 13 league games in his first season of senior football, and he has shown glimpses of quality while also struggling at times. Despite being primarily viewed as a holding midfielder, Charles has struggled when asked to play as the anchor in the middle of the pitch, appearing more comfortable slightly more advanced, resulting in Will Smallbone dropping back into the ‘6’ role when Flynn Downes is absent.

Charles may not start another league game this season now that Downes has returned and Smallbone appears to have the manager’s approval, as well as a midfield that includes Stuart Armstrong, Joe Rothwell, and Joe Aribo. This would follow a recent trend, with the midfielder being an unused replacement in the last four Championship games.

While he may miss out on experience at the end of the season, Charles’ time will come, and the learning curve of his first season in senior football will serve him well for a successful Southampton career.

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