Adkins sees experience pay off for his improving Saints

Lambert
Rickie Lambert (right) scored the crucial goal which saw off Aston Villa. Photo: PA

Southampton manager Nigel Adkins believes a "growing maturity" among his players is responsible for their upturn in fortunes in the Barclays Premier League.

Saints gained a vital 1-0 win at fellow strugglers Aston Villa yesterday, albeit through a fortuitous penalty when replays showed no contact was made on Jay Rodriguez before he went to ground.

Rickie Lambert's successful spot-kick, his ninth goal of the campaign, earned Southampton their second away success of the season.

It means Adkins' side have taken 17 points from their last 11 games after losing eight of their initial 10 matches back in the top flight following back-to-back promotions.

Adkins said: "That is 11 games now with only two defeats and those were only by a single goal.

"We've shown a growing maturity after a baptism of fire back in the Premier League.

"We've been used to winning at Southampton (in the last two seasons) and we are improving all the time.

"Everyone is getting used to this level. A lot of us were in League One a couple of years ago and in the Championship last season.

"We've come a long way and are adapting to the demands of the Premier League.

"The players deserve great credit because they want to improve all the time.

"We've shown we can score goals, have done it consistently all season again, and it was really pleasing to now get a clean sheet at Villa."

Regarding the penalty, Adkins said: "Jay's leg has moved out of the way which is just as well because there would have been contact (from Enda Stevens).

"We don't advocate diving at our club and we probably should have had seven or eight penalties this season that we haven't had.

"It was a case of what comes around, goes around, that you are due one, that sort of thing. It's a big decision."

Match-winner Lambert believes Southampton's ability to win matches against their fellow relegation rivals this season - their other away win was at QPR - could prove crucial.

Lambert, who netted twice in Saints' 4-1 home win over Villa, said: "Maybe two or three months ago we might have buckled in a match like that. It goes to show how far the lads have come.

"When we got promoted, we knew we didn't have much Premier League experience in the squad, only a couple who had played Premier League.

"We knew it was going to take us a while to get used to it. Now I feel we are getting used to it and improving every game.

"We still know there is a long way to go. We haven't done anything yet, but doing well against the teams around us is important.

"Everyone knows how important those games are and to get six points against a team like Villa, who are around you in the table, is massive and will go a long way to helping us at the end of the season."