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Soccer-Business as usual for sunny Saints, says Cork

Reuters

Jan 20 (Reuters) - The Southampton squad have been laughing and not panicking amidst feverous media talk the English Premier League side had been plunged into crisis following the resignation of executive chairman Nicola Cortese, midfielder Jack Cork said.

Cortese quit last week with the future of Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino coming into doubt after he had said in May he would follow the Italian banker through the exit door should he ever resign.

On Thursday, Pochettino allayed fears he would join the man credited with Southampton's recent renaissance in quitting and Cork said it had been business as usual on the training ground.

"Funnily enough the last few days have been much the same as other weeks, even though there was all that talk of meltdown and such," Cork said in quotes carried by British media on Monday.

"It has never felt like meltdown. We go in and train and play football like we always do.

"We were laughing at talk of us imploding. That was never going to happen. There's been a lot of silly talk.

"The gaffer came in and said: 'I'm not going anywhere. We carry on.' That was nice to hear. Mr Cortese was a good chairman but I don't think it's really going to affect any of us lads."

All the positives of the Cortese-Pochettino era were on display on Saturday as Southampton raced into an early 2-0 lead away to Sunderland.

High pressing and intricate passing resulted in goals for Jay Rodriguez and Dejan Lovren in the first 31 minutes with the struggling, outplayed hosts fortunate not to be further behind.

Sunderland rallied, though, and a swift reply by Fabio Borini cut the deficit before Adam Johnson followed up his hat-trick against Fulham last time out to bag an equaliser with 20 minutes left.

NICE FOOTBALL

Focussing on the bright first half, Cork said the former Argentine defender was a vital component to the high quality play the south coast side were producing.

"The manager just gives us the confidence to play that kind of football," the 24-year-old said. "It's accepted that every now and then we're going to make mistakes.

"He doesn't mind because we're playing nice football and the more we do that the better we get. There's definitely no blame culture, criticism is always constructive, not personal.

"Hopefully this mission we are on keeps going. It's vital Mauricio Pochettino stays next season and we keep this thing going. He's been fantastic for us. He talks to us every day and gives us the confidence to play."

The draw left Southampton in ninth place on 31 points, 12 behind Liverpool who hold the fourth and final Champions League qualifying place.

They host second tier Yeovil in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday before entertaining league leaders Arsenal three days later.

Pochettino could be without Lovren and Gaston Ramirez for both matches and maybe longer after they left the field against Sunderland late in the game on stretchers with ankle injuries.

"The two injuries at the end soured the afternoon," Southampton playmaker Adam Lallana said. "It's terrible - I don't know what else to say."

Uruguayan Ramirez suffered his injury following a tackle by Sunderland defender Wes Brown, who appeared to snick a bit of the ball but a lot of Southampton man's ankle. Lovren's game was ended after a tangle with Craig Gardner.

"I've seen a picture of the tackle on Gaston and it's not nice at all, and I think Dejan's might be just as bad," Lallana added.

"We'll get back home and the main thing is assessing those guys. Hopefully they're not too critical.

"I'm disappointed we couldn't get three points after a dominant first half performances and, with those injuries, it wasn't a nice afternoon in the end." (Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O'Brien)

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