How Ralph Hasenhuttl has repaid Saints’ faith after night of hell

After THAT shambolic 9-0 defeat to Leicester, Southampton stuck by their manager and are now being rewarded for their patience.

Joel Sanderson-Murray

Not many teams can recover from a 9-0 drubbing at home without some kind of systematic change.

Not many club boards would sit there and experience the optimum height of embarrassment without hovering over the trigger.

Southampton’s horrific 9-0 defeat at home to Leicester City at the end of October broke records, totalled a shedload of fantasy points up to Jamie Vardy but most of all scared the hell out of Saints fans.

Would this be the year they make a return to the Championship?

In truth, Southampton have been in a sort of limbo crossed with purgatory in the Premier League for years, after the twilight years of European qualification.

For years, bigger clubs, mainly Liverpool, would pick at the carcass of the squad at St.Marys – meaning any chance of building a consistent quality squad would be nipped in the bud transfer window after transfer window.

The Saints were a mainstay in the top half of the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman before they were grasped from the South Coast.

But Southampton have been a club lacking in identity for years, summed up by the underwhelming spells of Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes.

A club that was known for its flourishing academy, progressive style of play and ability to take some of the biggest scalps in the division at home had stopped producing any of that and in appointing Hughes had become an institution just focused on purely surviving, not thriving.

The appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl, who had gathered a strong reputation after a successful spell in charge of RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, was an ode pointing to heading back to what had made Southampton an attractive club.

An energetic 3-2 win over Arsenal in his first game in charge had Saints fans licking their lips over what was to come.

The Austrian kept Southampton up comfortably in the end last season but this campaign had not exactly gone to plan, after a summer of optimism.

That disastrous night against Leicester had all the ringings of the chickens finally coming home to roost at St.Marys.

Too many good players had departed from the South Coast and a club that had lost it’s identity was now in a precarious position of losing their place in the top division of English football.

But here we are nearly nine-months after Jamie Vardy and co had run riot and suddenly Southampton look an entirely different entity.

The signs of improvement were there almost straight away, the league game after the Leicester debacle was a haunting trip to champions Manchester City. A game in which they had taken the lead and only lost due to goals in the final ten minutes.

Southampton were also unlucky not to come away with all three points on a trip to the Emirates, where again a late Alexandre Lacazette goal meant another game in which the Saints had led ended in a draw.

Boxing Day saw Hasenhuttl’s men hold on to a fantastic 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in a game in which they flourished, scoring one of the team goals of the season past Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.

They followed that with a superb win over Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, a victory which would have seemed unthinkable back in the autumn following that thrashing by Leicester.

They have grown, improved and although they may not have tightened up at the back, there now does seem to be a plan in which how they want to play.

In Danny Ings they have one of the most in-form strikers in the country, with his double against Watford meaning he is now the second-highest goalscorer in the league.

Two wins and a defeat since the return from lockdown means Southampton are now 13-points clear of the drop zone and just one win away from breaking into the top-10.

What’s more, that win at Vicarage Road means Hasenhuttl has now become the first-ever Saints boss to win eight Premier League away matches in a single season

A fine example of a club being rewarded for sticking with their manager and reaping the benefits of doing so.

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