Koeman: Saints deserve lofty league status

Ronald Koeman believes Southampton deserve to be third in the Premier League and admits he did not expect such success when he took the job.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman insists his team's surprise charge up to third in the Premier League table is no laughing matter.

Koeman arrived at St Mary's during the close season to tackle a seemingly thankless task following the departures of predecessor Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham and key players Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Adam Chambers.

But the former Netherlands international masterminded a flying start to the season and Saturday's 2-1 win at Newcastle United was Southampton's fifth in six unbeaten league outings - a run that has seen them bounce back emphatically from a slump of four consecutive losses in November and December.

The south coast club sit third with 16 games of the season remaining and above the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool.

Koeman concedes he would have found such a state of affairs fanciful when he took charge but firmly believes his team merit their lofty status.

"If I had been asked the question in pre-season would we be third in the table after 22 games, maybe I would have laughed," he said after watching recent loan signing Eljero Elia net a match-winning brace at St James' Park.

"But not now because we have a really good team and we have really good spirit and really good organisation.

"I'm not surprised that we are now third in the league because we haven't stolen any points and what we have got, we have deserved."

The Newcastle triumph was a third in seven gruelling days on the road for Southampton, who overcame Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday before beating Championship side Ipswich Town by the same scoreline in an FA Cup third-round replay in midweek.

Victory on Tyneside also came amid the injury absence of influential midfield duo Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama and Koeman added: "I am very happy and very proud of everybody. 

"It was a long week, a difficult week, three away games, but okay, if you win games, that gives players the confidence and the spirit that you need to win against Newcastle.

"Everybody was proud after the win last week against Manchester United because that's history, that's a great place to win. 

"But as a manager I think the win today is still better because it was the third game this week and we have some injuries."