IT IS going to take a collapse of epic proportions or something special from one of their rivals to stop Southampton securing a second successive promotion.
The Saints are on the march and opened up a five-point gap at the top of the Championship after claiming a 2-0 win at Hull City in midweek.
Having recorded seven wins and two draws from their last nine outings, Southampton are poised to go up as champions and boast a seven-point cushion over West Ham in third position.
Managed by Nigel Adkins, regarded as one of the most promising young bosses in the country, the Saints have been formidable on their own patch, losing on just two occasions to Bristol City and Leicester City.
Defensively, Southampton have been difficult to break down in front of their home faithful, leaking a paltry 13 goals. Adkins rates his centre half pairing of Jose Fonte and Jos Hooiveld as one of the best in the division.
“They’ve formed a good partnership,” acknowledged Adkins. “I want us to play out from the back and we’ve got two very good football players on the ball.
“They are two centre halves who can head and two centre halves who are a threat from set plays.
“We’ve got good players at Southampton and they all work extremely hard.
“As I’ve underlined on several occasions it’s not about one player, it’s about the whole team contributing.
“It’s what we worked very hard to bring in and we’ve got good players here who work very hard for each other.”
Hooiveld, on-loan from Celtic, has proved a major threat at the other end of the pitch, scoring six goals. Despite the team’s lofty position in the table, the Dutchman is refusing to take promotion for granted.
“It’s such a weird league,” he said. “The bottom teams beat the first three and it goes on and on like that.
“I’m experienced enough not to get carried away. There’s eight games and 24 points left.
“It’s a long way to go.”
Southampton are looking to avenge the defeat they suffered in South Yorkshire last December.
Hooiveld said: “That result was a disappointment. Of course when we’re at home, we want to win everything at home and that’s the most important thing.
“Let’s all make sure that we get ready for it.”
Daniel Fox and Guly Do Prado are minor doubts for the league-leaders with groin and hamstring injuries respectively. Dan Harding is on stand-by to deputise for Fox at left-back whilst Billy Sharp or Lee Barnard could come into contention if Do Prado fails to shake off his knock.
Teams and ref
SAINTS (pissible) Davis; Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; Puncheon or Chaplow, Schneiderlin, Cork, Lallana; Lambert, Guly. (4-4-2).
ROVERS (possible): Ikeme; Chimbonda, Hird, Beye, Ilunga or Friend; Coppinger, Gillett, Barnes, Bennett; Diouf, Piquionne (4-4-2).
Danny McDermid (Hampshire): Has officiated 10 matches this term, handing out 27 bookings and two red cards. He has not taken charge of a Rovers match since 2008 where he cautioned seven players.
One to watch
Liverpool-born striker Rickie Lambert, pictured, has notched 28 goals in 41 appearances during the 2011/12 campaign. He bagged his fourth hat-trick of the season in the 3-2 win at Millwall last weekend. Standing at 6ft 1ins tall, Lambert has netted 85 goals in 149 appearances for the Saints.
Rovers are seeking a third successive victory over the Saints. Billy Sharp scored the only goal when the two sides met in December and Rovers triumphed 2-1 on their last visit to the St Mary’s Stadium in 2009 thanks to goals from Martin Woods and James Coppinger.