José Fonte believes last season’s meeting with Fulham at St Mary’s is a yardstick as to how far the team have come over the past 12 months.
José says it’s no coincidence that the opening to the current season is remarkably different, with the squad’s desire to improve particularly in defence, fully evident in the opening eight league games as Saints now boast the meanest backline in the division.
“The stick that we got last year from the critics made us work harder,” Fonte explained to Saints Player.
“The manager came in with his own philosophy, and he’s very good at organising the team tactically and defensively. That, and the arrival of Dejan Lovren obviously, who has been fantastic at the back. Artur [Boruc] has been very good as well because he gives us a lot of confidence too.
“The whole team has a style of pressing high and keeping the ball high up the pitch which takes some of the pressure off the back so there are a few things which collectively have contributed to the fact that we’re conceding so few goals.
“I think we’ve matured a little bit and we understand more what the Premier League is about as we are more ruthless, so I think that we are different this year.”
Another aspect of the meeting between the two teams at St Mary’s was that Fonte helped to maintain a personal statistic whereby Saints have never tasted defeat in the ten matches that he has scored in.
“I didn’t know that, but it’s good,” he agreed. “I’d rather I didn’t score and we win every game, but it’s a nice statistic nevertheless.
“It was a very frustrating game,” Fonte added of last season’s meeting. “We were in a winning position and then we conceded two terrible goals, but at the end we got a little bit of satisfaction with a late equaliser and a point which wasn’t too bad.
“It was a pretty good day for me as I scored twice, but it’s very frustrating to do that at home and not to get three points each time.”
Due to the team’s current league position, Saints arguably go into this contest with Fulham as favourites to win, but Fonte doesn’t believe that it will be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination.
“They just showed the quality that they have because individually they have great players,” he stressed. “When you see the likes of [Dimitar] Berbatov, Scott Parker, Darren Bent and the Steve Sidwells of this world - these are guys with a lot of experience in the team.
“They are a side with a lot of experience and a lot of quality so they cannot be underestimated one little bit, we won’t do it.
“We know the league that we are in is the hardest league in the world, there’s no easy games, and we’ll give 100 per cent to beat them because we don’t expect an easy game so we’re going to be at it on Saturday to try and excite the fans.”