After two promising results within a week, Southampton now have to use the momentum gained to do something they haven’t done all season – record back-to-back wins.
A well-earned point against Tottenham followed by an F.A Cup victory against Watford may well have kept Mauricio Pellegrino in his job for a little while longer. Throw in the addition of Guido Carrillo for a club-record fee and heavy rumours of the highly rated Dutch winger Quincy Promes joining him, and there’s a slight optimism surrounding the club at the moment. However, all of these promising factors will be meaningless if we fail to beat the teams in and around us.
It’s truly been the story of our season; picking up points against top teams and then failing to gain maximum points where it truly matters – a prime example of this is during the festive period. After the boxing-day drubbing to Tottenham, Pellegrino’s side travelled to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. After fears of another thrashing, Saints performed valiantly and gained a point at Old Trafford.
However, Saints failed to build on this performance and lost at home in a real relegation six-pointer against Crystal Palace. At St Mary’s the usual traits in our performances under Pellegrino became apparent. Southampton took the lead through Shane Long’s first goal of the season, buring the second half Pellegrino instructed his side to sit deep and Palace took full advantage.
Southampton have failed to win in the league for 11 matches which has seen the Saints drop into the relegation zone. They obviously believe he can turn this situation around, but these so called ‘signs of improvement’ still haven’t come to fruition. It’s quite apparent that the board have decided to back him instead of sack him.
In our most recent match against Watford, Saints were controlling the game expertly and limiting the Hornets to virtually no chances. With twenty minutes to go, Pellegrino decided to replace our most creative outlet on the day, Sofiane Boufal, with Maya Yoshida. Saints then dropped deeper and deeper and invited unnecessary Watford pressure. The last twenty minutes shifted the dynamic of play from Saints dominating, to looking shaky as they desperately trie to defend for the final moments of the match. Unlike recent fixtures, however, Saints survived a late scare and booked their place in the 5th round of the F.A Cup.
Our next two games are arguably our biggest since Southampton returned to the Premier League in 2012. First up is Brighton at home, followed by West Brom away. The Seagulls have one more point than us at this moment in time and are currently two places higher in the league table. The Baggies are currently one place below in the league and two points worse off.
The enormity of these games go without saying and if we truly wish to retain our Premier League status, we simply can’t afford to lose either.
In the reverse fixtures Saints actually played relatively well. At the AMEX, we controlled much of the first 45 and through a sublime curling free-kick from James Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis was able to nod home the opener on the rebound. In our usual style, however, the Saints decided to soak pressure in the second half and through a weak Glenn Murray header that was matched by an even weaker reaction from Fraser Forster, Brighton shared the spoils. At St Mary’s, West Brom were arguably playing their worst football of the season, but thanks to a Boufal wonder goal, Saints grabbed all three points.
We find ourselves currently sitting in 18th place in the table,meaning it’s now or never to pull ourselves out of this situation. The fans have been great in backing the team and now it’s their turn to deliver. Southampton have only three home games against sides outside the top eight remaining and the only way we climb out of the bottom three is by picking up vital points from those teams around us. We can no longer rely on other teams doing us favours – It’s a far too risky game that we can no longer afford to play.
Swansea picked up all the points against Liverpool and the teams around us are now starting to find their flow under new management. With Pellegrino seemingly set to stay at this moment in time, there are no longer any excuses for the Argentinian to hide behind; the Saints need to show that they’re capable of dominating a game for an entire 90 minutes, and that starts with three points against Chris Hughton’s Brighton tomorrow night.