Despite Southampton taking a giant step towards Premier League survival with victory over Brighton and Hove Albion, the season is far from over.
At the time of Mark Hughes’s sacking, Southampton found themselves 18th in the Premier League following a 2-2 draw with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
The result at face value wouldn’t have be enough to see the Welshman lose his job, but after defeat to Fulham a week before and the fact Saints had led 2-0 against the Red Devils, the board felt it was necessary to relieve Hughes of his managerial duties
The club were arguably under a cloud of negativity after the past three managerial appointments had taken the club from European nights to relegation fights; the board knew this was their final roll of the dice.
Sacking a manager is only as effective as their replacement, so when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s name was circulating to replace Hughes, perhaps Saints had found an improvement to their previous employee.
Hasenhuttl was appointed as Southampton’s new manager prior to the 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.
In the Austrian’s first seven league games in charge, he had already matched Hughes’s three league wins as Saints boss whilst beating one of the top six; something his two predecessors couldn’t.
The improvement is there for all to see under Hasenhuttl, from points tally to individual performances. Southampton have picked up 24 points since the Austrian took the reigns at St Mary’s and looking at a table comprised of results in 2019, we would sit fifth.
When the Austrian first arrived, the negativity surrounding the club began to disappear as optimism grew. Picking up 13 points from Hasenhuttl’s first eight matches in charge led to fans looking up the table rather than over our shoulder.
However, we were brought straight back down to earth when Saints only took two points from a possible nine against relegation rivals, Crystal Palace, Burnley and Cardiff City.
The home performances against Palace and Cardiff showed the holes in our squad as we were fortunate to gain a point against the Eagles and we threw away a point against the Bluebirds.
Had we gained maximum points in the two matches against Neil Warnock’s side we would be sitting on 39 points whilst they would have 22; showing how valuable each point gained and lost is in the Premier League.
Looking at the final seven games of the season, Saints have arguably the ‘nicest’ run-in when compared to Cardiff, Burnley and Brighton’s fixtures. We only face one of the top five whereas Cardiff play two of the top five, Burnley three and Brighton two.
There’s still a lot to play for in the Premier League this season with each team trying to achieve their individual goals. Whether it be European qualification, trophies or survival, every game will effect the table until the final day meaning every team has something to play for.
This means games against Wolves, Watford, Newcastle, Bournemouth and West Ham will be much harder than they appear at face value. Wolves, West Ham and Watford are both competing for seventh place whilst Bournemouth will be desperate to beat us for the first time in six games.
In the reverse fixtures against these teams, Saints only picked up three points from a possible 15. Three more points may be enough to keep us up, but it would also lead to another nervy end to the season.
The saving grace could be the final day fixture against already relegated Huddersfield Town. However, the Terriers won’t roll over even though their fate is sealed.
Hasenhuttl has reconnected the fans with the players on the pitch by having a clear attacking strategy and showing passion on the sidelines. It may be a small thing, but having a manager that interacts with the fans post match makes all the difference; and shows he values our support.
With the positive atmosphere returning to St Mary’s we must take advantage of this and look to pull further away from the relegation zone. We as fans can’t get carried away or complacent as Hasenhuttl won’t let the players do the same.
We have to be realistic and despite being close to Premier League survival; our expectations can’t outgrow the abilities of those on the pitch.