Southampton have put together a run befitting the expense and quality of their squad. But amid the gaggle of Football League big-hitters assembled by ex-manager Alan Pardew, at the heart of their improvements is a product of the St Mary's academy: winger Adam Lallana, who has been at the club since the age of 12.
Surgery on his knee forced him to spend seven weeks on the sidelines this season, during which time Southampton went on a winless run which brought about Pardew's exit in favour of Nigel Adkins. Lallana was then relieved the new man wanted to play the expansive, passing football that suits his game. He said: "It was frustrating to be sat on the sidelines and watching the ideas he was putting into play. I need maybe a couple more 90 minutes then I will be back to full fitness."
Lallana not only provided the build-up for Rickie Lambert's goal against Tranmere on Saturday, but added one of his own, his third of the season. He added: "If I could match last year's tally of 20 I would be really happy. But the main target is promotion so if I can chip in with 10, 15 or even less and we still get promoted I will settle for that."
In contrast to Southampton's resources, Tranmere manager Les Parry had to put 17-year-old academy player Max Power on the bench. Parry said: "To be quite honest with you, if we'd have beaten them it would have been a bigger result than Blackpool beating Liverpool last week. We sent out a very young team, a very thin side. I would guess that every one of their side earns more than my entire squad today."
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Butterfield, Seaborne, Fonte, Harding; Puncheon (Chamberlain, 78), Chaplow, Hammond, Lallana (Holmes, 85); Do Prado (Barnard, 63), Lambert. Substitutes not used: Bialkowski (gk), Dickson, Jaidi, Bignall.
Tranmere Rovers (4-5-1): Gulasci; Wootton, Wood, McLaren, Cresswell; Blanchard, Welsh, Jennings (Morrow, 74), Mendy (Fraughan, 65), Akins (Thomas-Moore, 60); Showunmi. Substitutes not used: Collister (gk), Cathalina, Bakayogo, Power.
Referee G Ward (Surrey).
Man of the match Lallana.
Possession Southampton 54% Tranmere 46%
Shots on target Southampton 10 Tranmere 1Attendance 19,293. Match rating 6/10.