Stand-in skipper insists players won't shy away from reality as race to avoid the drop heats up.
Ryan Bertrand insists nobody in the Southampton dressing room is shying away from the club’s precarious position in the Premier League.
Saints travel to Newcastle tomorrow just one point above the relegation zone, knowing victory would see them leapfrog their hosts.
Bertrand, nearing the end of his fourth season at St Mary’s, acknowledges it is new territory but sees no reason to panic with nine games to play.
“We’re used to back-to-back solid seasons and we’ve had some fantastic finishes, but it’s an experience for the squad,” he said.
“I think when we come through this moment, we’ll all be stronger individually and collectively. It’s still all to play for.”
The use of “when” and not “if” underlines his confidence.
“The fixtures are still well in our favour,” he reasoned. “We’re relying on nobody else to drop points and it’s all in our hands.
“Since I’ve come to this club, I know what the expectations are and what they have been.
“This is new territory for us, but it’s something that you can’t shy away from. You can’t run – you have to stand up, be counted and relish the opportunity.
“Like I said, it’s all in our hands and we have to get the job done.”
It might be untrodden ground in Saints’ recent history, but the defender has been here before.
In his teenage years, as a Chelsea player on loan at Norwich, Bertrand suffered relegation from the Championship – a setback he now considers an extra string to his bow nine years on.
“Throughout my career, I’ve had highs, lows, happy moments and sad moments,” he reflected.
“I can share those experiences with the team, to make sure we remain calm and focused on our objectives.
“I know we have enough quality. Mentally we’ve learned as a team and I think we’re in a place now to start picking up points and hopefully we can build that consistency to achieve the points that we need.”
ryan bertrandthis is new territory for us, but it's something that you can't shy away from. you can't run - you have to stand up, be counted and relish the opportunity.
The England international now shares those experiences as the leader of the Saints dressing room, having inherited the captain’s armband at the start of February from Steven Davis, who remains sidelined through injury.
“I’m still the same me,” he said. “With or without the armband, I’ve always tried to influence and share my experiences to galvanise everybody and remain positive, even in hard times.
“Getting the armband and that recognition on matchdays is a nice thing, but in terms of my behaviours, they’ve been the same.
“I get very emotionally attached to the situation and the outcomes, but that allows me to really dig deep to analyse things individually and collectively as a team: how I can do better, or how, as a team, we can improve moving forward.”
Bertrand and co. will be backed by a sold-out away end at St James’ Park, with Saints fans travelling the length of the country in support of their team.
It’s a level of dedication and loyalty that has not gone unnoticed among the players.
“It means everything,” Bertrand continued. “We rely on the fans and their support to get us through.
“If the game is a bit tight, they can push us on. When we’ve been working hard, their energy keeps us going.
“If fans vent their frustrations, we’ll go into the changing room and vent our frustrations to each other. That’s football.
“Them being there gives us a solid reminder of who we’re in this for.
“They’re fully behind us. Everybody at the club wants better and wants to do well, and they’re still there selling out stadiums.
“As players, we can take confidence from that and use it to our advantage.”
Three points would certainly make the long journey home from the north east pass a little quicker, and Bertrand is keen to stress how soon the picture can change for the better at the bottom.
“Wins change games, change training grounds, change teams and change the whole atmosphere,” he added.
“It allows you to build that confidence to roll into the next week. If you can achieve that, with back-to-back wins and find that consistency, you’ll see yourselves progress quite quickly in this tight bunch.”