Rewind to game week 10 and the future looked bleak for Ralph Hasenhüttl. Leicester City had just pumped his Southampton side a record equalling 9-0. It was on their own turf too.
Today though, the Saints can hold their heads high after a dramatic turnaround. Ruining Manchester United uprise to 3rd and consequent Champions League place, through a late Obafemi goal was another cherry on the cake.
How though did the change come about?
The dark moments
10 games into the campaign, Southampton were bottom. They’d just turned in that stomach wrenching “performance” versus Leicester. They were the third poorest side in the league in goals scored with their defence even worse. On top of that, the club were third from bottom having accumulated just eight points from a possible 30.
The easy thing to do would have been for the board to sack Hasenhüttl, or for the manager to walk away or for the players to put down their tools. That never happened though. Instead, the 9-0 humbling seemed to galvanise the club.
Emerging into the light
If you were given the choice of a game to avoid after such a shambolic performance, then it is probably a trip to the Etihad to face Man City. That’s exactly what awaited the Saints though. They lost the match but the display the put in was evidence enough that the players were fully behind their gaffer as City needed a late Kyle Walker goal to come from behind.
Next up was a game match against Everton that saw another narrow defeat before an unbeaten run of three games saw Southampton collect seven points. It also moved them out of the bottom three.
Since then, the Saints have been a tough proposition and have won 11 of 23 games with their away from particularly impressive. They’ve beaten Chelsea and Leicester on the road and on Monday evening took a further point as Michael Obafemi turned in a late leveller against the Premier League’s form team, Manchester United.
When the whistle sounded at the end of the 9-0 defeat back in October, Southampton became favourites in the betting odds for relegation but, somewhat remarkably, had their season restarted. Just three games later – when they faced Arsenal away from home – they’d sit in sixth position.
Three points clear of Chelsea and four from the side who demolished them on that fateful night (Leicester City).
The shining stars
There aren’t many managers who could fire up a squad from such a low point and Hasenhüttl deserves enormous credit for the change of fortunes his team have seen but there are a few players who are worthy of huge pats on the back too.
The obvious one is Danny Ings. Everyone knows what Ings is capable of with injury robbing him of his chance to shine at Liverpool. Some of his injuries in Liverpool would even have been NFL career ending injuries for the bulky American football stars, but the 5 ft 10 in striker from Winchester bounced back. An example of persistence.
He had a successful loan spell with the South coast club last season as he was involved in 10 goals in 24 appearances and they opted to pay £20m to make it a permanent move. What a decision it has proven. This season, Ings has proven his fitness concerns are behind him as he’s featured in every Premier League fixture. He’s also once again proven what a top striker he is. A goal every 133 minutes has given him a haul of 19 meaning he’s firmly in the running to win the golden boot.
It’s not all about Ings though. Skipper James Ward-Prowse and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg have formed a formidable partnership in the centre of midfield. Both are happy to do the dirty work but it’s really the manner in which they complement each other that has worked wonders for Hasenhüttl. Hojbjerg, who has been linked with a move to Tottenham, provides a steel to the team and keep things ticking along, which allows his midfield partner, who has been tipped for a place in the England squad, to be more expressive whilst his dead ball quality has been a useful asset.
Finally, there is the defensive unit, which has only conceded more than two goals on three occasions in 25 matches since the drubbing. A big part of that improvement is down to Alex McCarthy returning between the sticks.
Angus Gunn started the season as number one but was dropped after the Leicester game. McCarthy has been in fine form recording six clean sheets and averaging three saves per match.
A bright future?
The way in which Southampton have transformed their season provides massive optimism ahead of the next campaign where the target will surely be to battle for a Europa League spot.
Before that though, there are still nine points to play for, which are all winnable for the Saints. A top half finish is definitely within reach and that would be a big achievement given where they were after 10 games. Their example should be given to current teams struggling against relegation, as West Ham.
Nonetheless, moving into the 2020/21 season, there are two big things to address for Hasenhüttl. One is a poor home record, which has seen them collect just 17 of their 45 points at St Mary’s. The other will fall on the club hierarchy as their resolve is bound to be tested regarding the likes of Ings and Hojbjerg.
Regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, everyone in football should look at the situation at Southampton and realise that the solution to a problem isn’t always pulling the trigger.