Dismay, anger, outrage, confusion – these are all words that described Southampton fans' reaction to the sacking of Nigel Adkins back in January, just as the team seemed to be turning the corner last season and moving away from the relegation zone. After all, Adkins had guided the club to back-to-back promotions and had put Southampton back on the map after a miserable slide down the football pyramid.

His replacement, Mauricio Pochettino, was an unknown quantity in English football and had only a three-year stint at Espanyol on his managerial resume. The situation had all the necessary elements to spark a turbulent downward spiral. And yet Southampton have gone in the opposite direction, finishing last season strongly and beginning the 2013/14 campaign with real belief that they can crash the top six party.

Chairman Nicola Cortese positioned the managerial change as a decision made "with the long-term ambitions of Southampton Football Club in mind", suggesting that Adkins was not the man to lead Saints into Europe and beyond. It remains to be seen whether Pochettino is that man, but he has seemingly won over the vast majority of supporters, particularly with his success in the transfer market.

That may well be the most significant stride forward that Southampton have taken since parting ways with Adkins. Pochettino and the powers that be at St. Mary's have made the South Coast club an attractive destination for big name players and have dramatically altered the club's ceiling as a result. The signing of Pablo Osvaldo from Roma was a prime example of a deal that would have been unlikely last season. Similarly, the acquisitions of Celtic's Victor Wanyama and Croatian defender Dejan Lovren over the summer confirmed that Southampton are now viewed as an established Premier League club on the road to bigger things.

While some feared that Adkins' departure would cause irreparable damage to team spirit, it appears that Pochettino's impact has been felt by everyone in the Southampton dressing room.

"The manner in which he has come in and lifted the club to a new level shows it was a decision that's been proved right", goalkeeper Kelvin Davis explained earlier in the year. "Mauricio and his staff have come in and communicated very well and everything they are trying to pull off the lads are soaking up and fortunately we are putting that into our performances."

Pochettino has instant credibility after a playing career that included 20 international caps and spells at club level in Argentina, France and Spain, and Cortese spoke of his reputation as tactician and accomplished man manager. Pochettino's grasp of the English language is steadily improving and that will likely allow him to prepare even more directly with his players. In the meantime, he is managing just fine.

The way that Pochettino carried himself in the wake of the recent 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield was telling, promising that his players would be focusing on the next game. After the win over Crystal Palace, which catapulted Saints into the top four above Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool, the Argentine again kept his feet firmly on the ground.

"The table right now doesn't count for anything at this moment", Pochettino said. "What will be really great is to finish the season in this position, but we have to believe we can do that. We have to believe that we can keep going forward and we want to keep working with the same imagination and bravery to do well."

While the December fixture list looms dauntingly for Southampton, the next two months offer more opportunities to solidify their status as top half certainties and top six dark horses. Trips to Manchester United and Arsenal will be good tests of how far Saints have come while clashes with Swansea, Fulham, Stoke and Hull will be eagerly awaited. Plus, if Pochettino can keep the momentum rolling, it would be no surprise to see Southampton actively participating in the January transfer market.

Sacking Adkins was a bold gamble for Southampton and thus far it is paying off. While it should be noted that Saints began last season with a far tougher first chunk of the schedule, Pochettino's influence should not be underestimated. Southampton's win at Liverpool proved they fear no one and their emergence is one of the sneaky subplots to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

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