Nigel Adkins the latest victim of ruthless Saints regime

Despite two promotions and credible start to life in the Premier League, Cortese wields the axe

In the wake of Wednesday's draw at Stamford Bridge, when Southampton came from two-down to draw, Nigel Adkins agreed the comeback made it his team's best result of an increasingly impressive season. Today he was fired and replaced by Mauricio Pochettino whose last coaching post was with Espanyol – until they fired him with the club bottom of La Liga in November.

As his successor let slip today, even a Southampton win against Chelsea would not have saved Adkins, who took Saints from League One to the Premier League in successive seasons and leaves them three points clear of the relegation zone after two defeats in 12 matches. Along the way he has earned the best win percentage of any Saints manager (54 per cent). But his future was sealed during the club's bad autumn. Pochettino revealed he had been "researching" the Southampton squad "for weeks" while Vegard Forren, a Norwegian defender signed from Molde for £4m today, told Norwegian TV he had "known about the change of manager for a while".

The exit of Adkins has echoed of his arrival in 2010 when Alan Pardew was sacked after a 4-0 win at Bristol Rovers. Pulling the trigger on both occasions was Nicola Cortese, the club's executive chairman who tends to divide opinion. One football figure said today: "Nothing would surprise me where he is involved, but don't quote me as he might sue."

Cortese is known within the game as a hard negotiator and he has in the past banned the local newspaper and the chairman of the Saints Trust, and fallen out with several ex-players, notably Matt Le Tissier. The Italian, a banker by profession, brokered the deal by which Markus Liebherr took over the club and has run it since the Swiss businessman died three years ago.

Nevertheless, Adkins' dismissal came as a complete surprise to himself, his staff and to supporters, some of whom said they were "disgusted" by the move. Earlier this season, when Saints were bottom of the league and seemingly bound for relegation, Adkins' name was chanted by fans.

However, Cortese may counter, so was Pardew's, but not for long.

Pochettino said: "[To win] the kindness of the supporters is the biggest challenge I have," and while he will not be given the hounding Rafael Benitez receives at Stamford Bridge he is unlikely to receive a warm welcome when Southampton host Everton on Monday night. A Spanish-style protest is planned with fans waving white hankerchiefs.

Lawrie McMenemy, Southampton's 1976 FA Cup-winning manager and a still a popular figure with supporters (though not with Cortese), spoke for many fans when he said, "I am shocked. With due respect to Pochettino what does he know about our game? What does he know about the dressing room? Does he speak English."

The answer to that query came at the new manager's unveiling when he spoke primarily through an interpreter. Having remarked, in English, on "the amazing weather", Pochettino said in Spanish he had talked to Jose Mourinho "who is a good friend of mine" and been told "the best football in the world' is being played here."

Adkins, a former goalkeeper who has been known to quote poetry in press conferences (as well as much that comes from the David Brent manual) came to prominence at Scunthorpe United, where he went from physio to promotion-winning manager. The 47-year-old was given a perfunctory thank you by Southampton whose statement said: "The club would like to thank Nigel Adkins for his service over the past three seasons and wish him well for the future."

Dugout drama: Bizarre sackings

Harry Redknapp

Dismissed by West Ham in May 2001, despite guiding club to fifth place and into Europe just two years before. The east London side went down to the Championship within two years of his departure.

Sam Allardyce

Relieved of duties at Blackburn in December 2010, with owners Venky's turning to caretaker Steve Kean. The club were 13th in the Premier League when Allardyce left, but were relegated within 18 months.

Roberto Di Matteo

Took over at Chelsea after Andre Villas-Boas's sacking last March, guiding them to the FA Cup and Champions League victories. Surprisingly sacked by Roman Abramovich just six months later, to be replaced by Rafael Benitez − to the rancour of supporters.

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