Big Sam on Southampton

Sam Allardyce is relishing the prospect of a top-two showdown with Nigel Adkins' Southampton at the summit of the npower Championship on Tuesday night.

The manager has plenty to ponder as he takes an unbeaten away record to the team with the best home form in the country - 16 straight wins and counting. He may well have to make changes but Big Sam is convinced that whoever wears the claret and blue will rise to the occasion.

To help the cause, the squad were boosted by a visit from an Olympian, who spoke to them about the will to win and a positive attitude - as well as the benefits of 26 hours of training a week. The manager is keen to make sure his men are as prepared mentally as they need to be physically ready every time they play.

Olympic gold medallist and world champion rower Mark Hunter came in to speak to the team on Friday. How has that helped?

SA: He told the lads where he came from and how he got to where he got to. It was an unbelievably difficult journey. You will have thought most people would have given up and thought 'it's beyond me' - especially when he finished last in the first Olympics he was competing in.

But he found the right avenues and he was determined enough to find where the best place was to get better and better and dedicated himself more and more.

It runs along very similar lines to football. However much you dedicate yourself is what you reap at the end of it in this game. If you choose to ignore that, you may be a talented player and you may get a living out of the game but you won't maximise it. Certainly you strive and ask the players to do that on a regular basis and it is that which will give us the opportunity to win at Southampton.

It is a big game, isn't it on Tuesday?

SA: It is a massive game. We have the confidence and opportunity to go and spoil Southampton's fantastic home record. The amount of wins they have had on the trot is outstanding. We will have to upset them and try and be the ones to break that run. Hopefully we can do that.

It has been a great start for Nigel's side and carrying on where they left off last season. It will be a hugely difficult game, it will be the biggest test we have had this season. We don't want to give up our away record. It will be a terrific match and hopefully at the end of it we will still be undefeated.

How do you feel knowing you can go top if you win?

SA: Southampton is a different scenario to Saturday but for me it is about the players being determined enough to make sure we stay unbeaten away from home and that will be our goal going into the game.

At the very least, when we finish that game, let's make sure we still have our precious unbeaten record. We want to hang on to that. Let's see how long we can go in terms of not getting defeated that will make other teams fear us even more when we go away and it will grow our confidence away from home to continue that kind of run.

What's the team news after the weekend?

SA: Carlton [Cole] has a little problem to the ligament at the side of the knee. They couldn't guarantee that if he went out on the pitch on Saturday that he would make it worse. We didn't risk him at all.

We rested Henri [Lansbury] because he has played every game and he hasn't really done that in his career up to now. He went and played two games back to back for the U21s including one on artificial turf as well. Even though he is a young lad he looked a little tired.

I will have to change the team based on maybe a couple of injuries - Matt Taylor and James Tomkins - but we will hopefully have one or two back as well. Mark Noble will be disappointed he didn't start on Saturday but Papa [Bouba Diop] came in and showed what he can do. We have good competition for places. We are worried about Matt Taylor's calf and James Tomkins' groin. We have other players in the frame, hopefully Carlton and Joey O'Brien.

I don't have selection headaches, not now. It is about selecting the right team and pleasing some people and disappointing others and dealing with it on a daily basis. It is about pointing out to the player who is disappointed what the reason is. It could be he isn't playing well or it could be from a tactical or fatigue point of view.

Important not to rest on your laurels for Tuesday. Will you change the formation?

I have warned the lads, enjoy the victory on Saturday but we have to be 100 per cent focused on Southampton. We have a very important away record to keep hold of so we had a little bit of enjoyment on Saturday but we had to focus the next day.

I don't know on the formation. We will have a look at it. I would think if they are very strong in certain areas then I will adapt my side to nullify their strength. If we don't we will be one of many teams that loses there, in fact every team has lost there during the last 16, haven't they?

My tactics will be to nullify the strength that means they win games at home on a regular basis. If that needs a change of system we will look at it and then we will build from that. Five away games not being beaten is one we have to look to continue to master for as long as we possibly can because it makes life an awful lot easier when we play at home.

Will this be the acid test for you?

SA: They are top of the league and we have Brighton and Leicester after that. Perhaps the lads will shine above all else when they play the bigger boys and really show what their abilities are all about. That is what I am hoping for.

We all know how competitive this division is, this division runs harder, longer and faster at high intensity in distance than the Premier League. It is the one thing it does better than the Premier League, the one big thing that stands out. If you are not capable of getting around the pitch in this league it is always going to be difficult even if you have the ability because you won't be able to show the ability you have got.

Would a win at Southampton be the perfect birthday present for you ahead of Wednesday?

SA: I forget about the birthdays now. I am getting closer to 60 and I don't really want to know about that! The lads have given me a really good shot in the arm by the way they have played and hopefully they will give me an early birthday present Tuesday night before Wednesday.