Mass protest over manager's sacking proved to be just talk and there was even a buzz of applause for Mauricio Pochettino
If a system were devised – you might call it the Benítez scale – to grade degrees of furiously mutinous, home-crowd managerial reception, Mauricio Pochettino's first appearance on the touchline as Southampton manager would register as no more than a tremor.
Monday night's visit of Everton to St Mary's came three days after the sacking of Nigel Adkins and there had been talk – albeit fanned by Twitter rumour and 24-hour rolling TV sports news – of a mass demonstration of disdain for the club's board. They promised us handkerchiefs. There were no handkerchiefs. Or at best there were just a few, a minor bunting that seemed to chime with a mood of fond and wistful farewell as much as angry protest.
Instead Pochettino was free to make an intriguingly assured debut as Southampton drew 0-0 with Everton, the Argentinian's first appearance on an English football field marked by a buzz of welcoming applause and a mass craning of necks. Southampton's new manager has an appealing natural authority: straight-backed and glossily groomed, Pochettino waved to the crowd and then strode on to the St Mary's turf to speak to his captain, Rickie Lambert. Even this seemed politic. Much has been made of Pochettino's meagre English, but here he was barking in Lambert's ear before happily exchanging pleasantries with David Moyes.
And in truth the evening provided an example of how thrillingly ruthless English football can be, a sport of enduring loyalties that nevertheless keeps charging on straight ahead. The waving of linen was scheduled for the fifth minute, a cosmopolitan if slightly quaint form of protest, but in the event the mass of handkerchiefs failed to materialise.
There were placards, a T-shirt or two, some Adkins face masks and a chorus in the first minute of "One Nigel Adkins". But otherwise Pochettino strutted about his technical area unhindered. And one thing is clear: he is a fidget, beckoning and cajoling his Southampton players even as they swarmed forward down the left and three times threatened to take the lead in the opening 15 minutes. Pochettino may not have Adkins' bond with his players, but he has an obvious charisma. Football is often a business of tiny margins. These things definitely help.
Perhaps this match, played out at a St Mary's that saved its most emphatic chant of the second half for Jason Puncheon's return to the pitch from a brief disappearance ("Oh Jason Puncheon, he's gone for a piss!"), might be seen as a double-header with the recent "£62 match" at the Emirates.
There is a lurking question here: when exactly will football supporters begin to protest in earnest – not at the referee, or at diving player, but at each incremental affront to their enduring loyalty? This is a business that seems to inflict fresh alienation on its captive consumers with each passing week, in this case the ruthless sacking of a popular manager. And yet those closest to the clubs remain patiently supportive.
What ire there is at St Mary's is reserved for the board and specifically for Nicola Cortese, the executive chairman who effectively runs the club on behalf of the family of the deceased Swiss-German industrialist Markus Liebherr. On this front the night had started in darkly ham-fisted fashion for the hierarchy's attempts to massage public opinion, with a match programme that contained almost no trace of Adkins (all that remained was a 2mm high Adkins, who could be spotted un-airbrushed at the edge of picture on page 21. Heads will roll).
This was followed by reports of stewards preventing radio journalists asking match-goers questions about Adkins at the ground, a genuinely bizarre full stop to what has already been a most peculiar managerial career. The three-year rise from physio's room to Premier League, and now this. Maybe the club were right. Maybe we had simply imagined Nigel Adkins.
It must be said the Adkins memoriam was kept to a minimum, despite the best efforts of the TV cameras eager to pick out the scattered Nigel T-shirts and Nigel banners. Indeed Adkins was most visibly present here in the team he bequeathed his successor.
Much has been made of Pochettino's modernity and his leanings towards the innovatory spirit of his fellow Newell's Old Boys alumnus Marcelo Bielsa, but the new man will also find a great deal in Adkins' regime that chimes with his own ideas of passing, pressing football and the blooding of young talent. Here there were no notable tweaks to the Adkins formula, with Southampton attacking with pace down the flanks and in a game of few chances narrowly shading it from the visitors.
Afterwards Pochettino, addressing the press through his interpreter, praised the reaction of the players "in a complex situation". Asked if he felt embarrassed to replace a manager whose name was chanted by the crowd here, Pochettino was, as expected, entirely composed: "I have the maximum respect for the previous manager. That is normal. He was here for several years. Now I want to focus on my tenure."