In the claret-and-blue corner at Upton Park on Saturday, Sam Allardyce, vastly experienced in top-flight management over around 500 matches in charge of Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers. In the red corner, Nigel Adkins, who had never managed in the Premier League before this season. It was no contest.
Last season, Adkins's Southampton took four points from Allardyce's West Ham as both battled for promotion from the Championship; but things look very different now, and it is in player recruitment that the gap is clearest. Southampton are reported to have been the seventh-highest spenders in Europe over the summer, with an outlay of over £30m, but their most obvious needs after promotion – in central defence and defensive midfield – were not addressed. Nor do any of the newcomers have Premier League experience.
Allardyce, in contrast, has added top flight know-how in defender James Collins and midfield man Mohamed Diamé – players who would have helped in Saints' problem positions – as well as strengthening in most other areas, for considerably less.
"We couldn't get anywhere near Southampton last year," Allardyce said. "We couldn't get level with them, we couldn't get above them, we couldn't beat them. But in the second half today the difference between us and them shows how far we have come, I think. The players we have brought in and added to the squad have delivered again."
Adkins knows that back-to-back promotions in the past two seasons will not save his job if matters do not improve. But if the only alternative to José Fonte and Jos Hooiveld in defence is Maya Yoshida, who was bullied off the ball by Yossi Benayoun on Saturday, it is hard to see how they can.
In a pre-season interview, Adkins told The Independent: "You know you are going to play against teams and players who are better, so you have to be as smart as you can to deal with that, try to play the game on your terms and not theirs."
But while his continued commitment to an attacking, passing game has brought 13 goals in eight matches, Saints are fighting a losing battle with an accident-prone rearguard that has conceded 24.
Yet even though Adkins (right) did not radiate his usual assurance after Saturday's second-half collapse, his beliefs appear unwavering. "You've got to stick to your principles," he said.
"Individually some players are maybe getting found out a little bit, but it's a collective thing at this club. We've all got to stick together and we've all got to work hard. That's the important thing. You've got to keep a resolve and a belief because when your mistakes get highlighted you start to lose a bit of confidence. We've got to keep the players believing in themselves."
Laudable, no doubt, but will it prevent the individual errors that were so costly on Saturday?
Allardyce was criticised by purist sections of the West Ham support last season for putting pragmatism above style, but they would surely not trade the club's present seventh place for Southampton's residency in the bottom three.
"It is not for me to say how Nigel does or doesn't play," Allardyce said. "Every manager chooses what they want to do with the team that they have got. But you can't keep not winning – you have got to win at some stage no matter what. He has got some really good players but they are not firing like they did last year – because it is that much harder in the Premier League."
West Ham: JAASKELAINEN 6/10, TOMKINS 5, REID 7, COLLINS 7, McCARTNEY 6, NOBLE 8, NOLAN 7, DIAME 6, BENAYOUN 7, CARROLL 6, JARVIS 6
Southampton: BORUC 4, YOSHIDA 3, HOOIVELD 4, FONTE 3, CLYNE 5, DOPRADO 4, S DAVIS 5, LALLANA 7, SCHNEIDERLIN 5, PUNCHEON 5, RODRIGUEZ 6
Goals: WH Noble 46, pen 72, Nolan 48, Maiga 87. Southampton Lallana 63. Subs: WH O’Neil 6 (Diame, 68), Maiga (Carroll, 82), Spence (Tomkin, 88). So’ton Lambert 6 (Rodriguez, 63), Mayuka 5 (Puncheon, 63), Ward- Prowse (S Davis, 89). Booked: So’ton Hooiveld, Schneiderlin. Man of match Noble. Match rating 6/10. Poss: WH 47%. So’ton 53%. Attempts on target: WH 8. So’ton 4. Referee N Swarbrick (Lancs). Att 34,925
Good summer? Allardyce or Adkins
* Southampton summer signings
G Ramirez (signed from: Bologna) £12m
N Clyne (Crystal Palace) £2.5m
J Rodriguez (Burnley) £8m
M Yoshida (Venlo) £2.5m
E Mayuka (Young Boys) £4m
S Davis (Rangers) Free
P Gazzaniga (Gillingham) £2m
A Boruc (Celtic) Free
Total spent: £31m
* West Ham summer signings
A Carroll (Liverpool) Loan
M Jarvis (Wolves) £7.5m
M Diamé (Wigan) Free
G McCartney (Sunderland) Free
J Jaaskelainen (Bolton) Free
J Collins (Aston Villa) £2.5m
M Maiga (Sochaux) £4.7m
A Diarra (Marseilles) £2m
Total spent: £16.7m