Southampton’s fully deserved 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day not only moved the Saints up to 12th in the Premier League table but also capped a remarkable rise from the ashes for the South Coast club.
Just six short weeks ago, few would have predicted the resurgence.
Rollback to matchday 10 on October 25th. Southampton’s record-breaking 9-0 defeat to Leicester City at St Mary’s become one of the darkest moments in the club’s entire history. It was a result that shook the club to its core, and a humiliation that was beamed to TV screens all around the globe.
Inevitably, the Saints become instant favourites for relegation, and Ralph Hasenhüttl’s position looked untenable. If you read the small print in any Premier League managers contract, a 9-0 defeat will certainly be a sackable offence and a cue to clear their desk immediately. Turn the lights off on your way out, Ralph. Instead, the Southampton board showed bravery and stood by Hasenhüttl when most clubs would have pulled the trigger.
Roll forward to matchday 14 on November 30th. Southampton sat second bottom in the league on 9 points with a joint worst goal difference in the division when they hosted Watford at St Mary’s. It was a game which kicked off a sequence of eight matches spread over a hectic winter period. A 2-1 victory that evening set the wheels in motion for a run which also brought wins over Norwich City, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. A 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace in amongst those victories meant a haul of 16 points for the Saints, a point tally only bettered by runaway leaders Liverpool (18 points) over the same period.
The back to basics approach by Hasenhüttl has been key to the revival. Reverting to a 4-4-2 formation after failing so often with other systems should not be understated and having a settled back four to play that system is even more important. Ryan Bertrand, Jan Bednarek, Jack Stephens and Cédric Soares have become just that, adding much needed solidity to the Saints backline. A return to the high pressing style of football installed by Hasenhüttl when he first arrived at Southampton is also paying dividends once again.
Above all, when a club is trying to claw themselves away from the relegation zone, it certainly helps to have a striker in red-hot form, and the one constant which has been ever-present this season for Southampton is the fine goalscoring form of Danny Ings.
His wonder goal against Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day was his thirteenth of the season. Only Jamie Vardy has scored more Premier League goals during this campaign. When Gareth Southgate picks his next England squad in March, he will find it hard to ignore Danny Ings if his prolific form in front of goal continues.
Expectations for 2020 are slowly growing amongst Saints fans, and their current form suggests they can finally start to look up the table rather than over their shoulder. As for Ralph Hasenhüttl, in a season which has seen six managers relieved of their duties so far amid relegation panic, Southampton Football Club deserve massive credit for sticking by their man.