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Ten Days That Changed The Season !
Monday, 11th Mar 2019 10:06

The win over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday was the culmination of ten days that might just have not only kept us up but also restored the faith of Saints fans in their football club.

After back to back defeats against first Cardiff City that in fairness was disastrous and then Arsenal which was a lot less catastrophic the knives were out amongst a section of our support for not only Ralph Krueger and his board but also amazingly Ralph Krueger.

Yes things were looking bleak, but as history as shown, periods of crisis are not the time for ranting and raving but times to keep calm and focus on the task ahead.

That mean't looking at the bigger picture and what the two Ralph's were actually doing in terms of their respective job's rather than going into meltdown.

For Ralph Hasenhuttl that meant looking as his past record, after the Arsenal game he had been in charge for 12 games, in that period he had gained 15 points at a ratio of 1.25 per game, that was still a very good record, we were a team that had had a blip, not one in freefall.

We went into the Fulham game at St Mary's at perhaps our lowest point of the season in terms of supporter confidence in either the team or the board, in terms of the team, that was very wrong but these days social media allows every defeat to be turned into a disaster no matter who it is against.

I can understand people being upset that we did not spend in the transfer window, but the club did try to sign players in key positions and unable to get them decided to take a longer term view that we were strong enough to stay up and so keep the money ready for the summer.

We all know the two key positions and two key positions only we are weak in.

Against Fulham we did the job, perhaps some felt we should have kicked on a little and attacked more in the second half, but having got a two goal lead the task was to hang on to it and ensure that we got all three points and that we did, not quite in style but with guts and determination and only our second clean sheet under Ralph Hasenhuttl was very pleasing.

The trip to Old Trafford was a home banker, but although ultimately another late goal condemned us to defeat, it almost felt like a victory, suddenly those at Old Trafford could see that despite the shortcomings and as i said earlier no one is denying that those shortcomings exist, we put in a display that brought some pride back into being a Saints fan, unlike defeats before Hasenhuttl arrived we did not sit back and wait for our punishment as we did under Mark Hughes at Liverpool and Manchester City, we went out and played with spirit and confidence and we deserved at least a point.

The wind was changing we were still out of the bottom three and on the pitch at least we could see hope.

On the Wednesday came the off field news as the club released it's accounts, the meltdown brigade were expecting to see doom and gloom after their constant claims that Gao is an asset stripper and was only in it for the profit.

But they showed a well run club financially with profits from transfers reinvested back into the squad, no money sequestered and no further debt loaded on to the club, indeed it showed a profit and here it should be noted that of the pre tax profit of around £36 million, after the accounts were closed Saints spent around £28 million on Angus Gunn and Jannik Vestergaard, so that profit was spent within weeks of being declared.

There is a tendency amongst some to refer to Ralph Krueger as a "Hockey coach" etc etc, but although he is that he has also run sporting franchises in America so has extensive experience of doing the job needed.

On the pitch results might not have been great over the last two years, but off the field the club has been well run and Krueger has done the job well, having overseen four consecutive top 8 top flight finishes, something never achieved before even in the glory days of the late 70's early 80's, plus two European campaigns, a major cup final and an FA Cup semi final, Krueger deserved praise for his part in that. four great seasons and one bad isn't a bad record.

Yes we have started badly this, but as a board we have addressed the problem areas, if we can now pull clear from trouble we have a great chance of imposing ourselves and challenging for the top 10 next season.

You felt that on social media a mindset had changed as well, those screaming for Gao to go were suddenly faced with the reality of the situation and facts rather than fiction, Billionaire football club owners do not grow on trees and we have to balance the books, a fair few people started to realise that.

In the same week it was revealed elsewhere that if Tottenham Hotspur doubled the salaries of their entire playing squad and added 7 new signings on £100k a week they would still have a wage bill less than Manchester City, that perhaps tells you of the gulf that exists not just between the other 14 clubs and the big six , but even in those elusive echelons itself.

Therefore Saints fans arrived at St Mary's on Saturday armed with optimism, the display at Old Trafford had spread the hope that we could not only compete with Spurs but beat them at home for the first time in 14 years.

Initially that optimism looked without foundation as Spurs showboated their way through the first half and for the a big half of the second, but we got the luck that has deserted us for a big part of the season and Ralph Hasenhuttl made a tactical change in the second half and we suddenly looked like the team a week earlier at Manchester United again.

The rest as they say is history.

Now we can look back on ten days that have hopefully gone a long way towards keeping us in the Premier League, we all should have learned last season and indeed those seasons back in the 1990's that a club that concentrates on winning games rather than bemoaning it's lot has a lot better chance of staying up, in the final games of last season the silent majority found it's voice not only in the stands but on line and the supporters played a big part in keeping us up.

That seemed to be the case on Saturday against Spurs, not only did the crowd stay with the team during the first 75 minutes and roared it on to score the equaliser, but the final minutes were right up there with anything since the stadium opened.

We now need more of the same for the final 8 games, even after the Arsenal game 1.25 points per game would have given us enough to stay up, now we are down to around 1.12 points per game needed, the good news is that Hasenhuttl's ratio is now 1.4.

We are still paying the price for the early season under Mark Hughes and also those soft goals conceded late in the last month or so, but we are now a team on the up.

A year ago we were on the face of it in not much of a worse position than we are today, 28 points from 30 games, but the situation is a lot lot different now then back then, the squad is no worse than a year ago, but given the new lease of life our manager has given to the likes of James Ward Prowse & Nathan Redmond it could be said it is better.

As I said a long way to go yet, but there is no reason why we can't kick on and surge to safety now, two wins would probably be enough with a couple of draws added, but three wins would make it almost certain.

Sometimes brief periods change seasons, the last ten days might just be the catalyst that has silenced the doubters and got them back onside again, no one is denying that mistakes have been made, hopefully they have now been rectified, we cannot change the past results only the future ones lets concentrate on the future not the past !

Photo: Action Images

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saintmark1976 added 10:31 - Mar 11
Nick, "but as a board we have addressed the problem areas". Sorry,but I had to laugh at that given that for weeks, if not months you have consistently pointed out that we needed a quality centre back.Have we signed one and I've missed it, or do you now accept that Yoshida is a better player than you have given him credit for in the past? Add in the fact that we still don't have any fit genuine strikers and you can see why many fans will perhaps find your comment a little odd to say the least.

Like the rest of Saints fans I hope that we have turned a corner but still remain of the opinion that the owners and their board are part of the problem rather than the solution.


Sanguin added 11:40 - Mar 11
Great article Nick, I sometimes wonder if the optimism you try to instil in fans isn’t worth a point or two come the end of the season.

You’re spot on about people screaming for Gao to go. I don’t understand what they think the alternative to the current owner and board is, which Premier League club’s management structure would they prefer we have? If the club isn’t spending money it’s doing poorly, if the club is spending money then it’s not buying the right players. There’s a very fine line that will satisfy these people. I think some football fans just like having something to moan about and someone to scapegoat and blame.

SaintBrock added 11:55 - Mar 11
Just a bit quick off the mark, Nick. I am not a great fan of wisdom in hindsight.

SaintNick added 12:03 - Mar 11
SaintMark, I have been banging on about signing a quality central defender for two years now, so is that the boards fault that we havent ? No it is the director of football and player recruitment's job, so the boards job is to make sure they are doing their job and to that end Les Reed has gone, so the board has done it's job here

With regard to the striker situation you try to distort the truth here, Charlie Austin is fit and Shane Long, we thought that both Ings and Obafemi would be fit and ready to return in February, both were but both have been injured in Feb, we also have Sam Gallagher, so the answer is we have three fit strikers and others like Armstrong and Redmond who can play up front.

Sorry saintmark but you miss the point about who is responsible for what, you think that our failure to spend in January is failure on the boards part rather than actually being savvy and not panic buying as we did last season.

You say the owners and the board are part of the problem not the solution, Im interested in what you think the solution is, is it to replace Krueger and a board who have kept the club running as a business as the owners want and have managed to deliver a top 8 finish in 4 of the last 5 seasons, believe me as a Chairman Kruegers record is a match for almost everyone outside the top six

You seem to be a little bit of a fantasist here in that there are better owners out there, Im interested in just who they are.

I await enlightenment

SaintNick added 12:05 - Mar 11
SaintBrock, there is no wisdom in hindsight I have been saying the same thing for years as every summer a section of the fanbase went into meltdown over our failure to prevent our now ex players tripling their wages elsewhere

bstokesaint added 12:30 - Mar 11
I despise the term “meltdown brigade” as much as I do “happy clappers”. I think as a passionate fanbase we have every right to question the board. I personally don’t trust Gao because all I have to go on is his past dealings. I was the over the moon with the result on Saturday (how dare we take points off a top 6 team..), but we still have a lot more work to do to escape the drop. The game against Brighton is huge and a win would bring both them and potentially Palace into the brown stuff.

Also a big mention to Yoshi (whose inclusion has improved us massively) and JWP, Redmond and Valery who have proved doubters wrong massively over the past few games and shown that Ralph has the ability to get the most out of these guys. Hands up, despite my questioning around Valery, he does seem to be going from strength to strength. It’s great to see.

saintjf added 12:40 - Mar 11
Yes we are a better team than last season and this was a significant result. We need to be better this season so we can stay up on our own merit rather than being not quite as bad as Swansea like last season.

landerwal added 13:24 - Mar 11
A great article but I cannot agree with those who think we should have dived into the transfer market in January and somehow magically improved things. The history of football is littered with teams that have bought heavily pre or mid season and had little or nothing to show for all their spending. Even Saints, who have made very many canny buys over very many years, our buying over the past couple of years also leaves a lot to be desired. What has changed is that the new manager has instilled a real team spirit ,has the ability and bravery to make substitutions that count and has raised the game of all the players. A really good manager can work with the players he has and still get results which Hasenhuttl is doing. A couple of of class players bought in the close season could really improve on even the last ten days and carry on right the way through the whole of next season.

saintmark1976 added 13:45 - Mar 11
Nick, I'm of the opinion that your wait for enlightenment may well be a long one. The expression "there are none so blind who cannot see"comes to mind. If you accept as you appear to,that two successive seasons of relegation struggle are vindication of the owners and boards successful credentials, then I fear there is very little that I can add that will change your view.

dirk_doone added 13:50 - Mar 11
Yoshida inspires our team almost as much as Fonte did. With Yoshida in the team this season, we've beaten Spurs and Arsenal and drawn with Chelsea and Man Utd. Without him we seem to lack a backbone. Along with the emergence of Sims, Valery and Ward-Prowse as real stars, Yoshida was a major reason why we beat Spurs.

wessexman added 13:58 - Mar 11
Saturday, we were very lucky. As the article says, at half time things looked grim. A combination of Ralph H having no choice but to go for broke an Spurs' arrogance saw a remarkable transformation. Last season we escaped because Swansea had an even bigger deathwish than we did. This season, if we are to survive it is almost because RH is determined to drag us over the line singlehandedly. I seem to remember Nigel Pearson doing something similar in the Championship. This is now the second desperate relegation scrap we have been involved in in successive seasons. From recent European qualification to relegation scraps in only a few seasons is can hardly be labelled a success.
Accounts may well look healthy but if we continue on this path, we will surely go down and the finances will go south rapidly.

Colburn added 15:10 - Mar 11
I agree totally with you here Nick. The club did address the problem areas and that was Reed and Hughes. We then had the option of risking further £15 million amounts on players who were unproven at this level or over inflated prices for players where clubs didn’t want to sell, as with Adams at Birmingham. We know the outcomes of Boufal, Carillo etc. So Ralph H decided we had enough quality to stay up and address the on field shortfalls in the summer, when we would be in a stronger financial position ourselves and obtain new players for the right fees. Also Ralph would have a chance to assess the progress of the academy players like Sims, Valery, etc thus being able to make even more informed decisions in the summer. Top win against Spurs and this came partly because of our efforts at Old Trafford.

In Ralph and our academy we trust!

Colburn added 15:16 - Mar 11
And we may have been lucky in some ways on Sat but not with the ref and not with the ref at Old Trafford either, so surely we’re allowed some along the way..

bstokesaint added 20:05 - Mar 11
Just because we’ve made some poor signings in the January window before it doesn’t mean to say this is the norm. We’ve made some questionable signings in summer months too. We don’t seem to be good with big money signings. At least in the main that is the case for most of our recent signings. I don’t see how highlighting weaknesses in advance and making shortlists would consistute what some might call panic buys.

SanMarco added 09:06 - Mar 12
Oh dear - we've got three weeks of this. Can we have the Brighton preview now please?

It would be a mistake to get over-confident after Saturday but another 8 points should be enough given Cardiff's run-in and even Hughes managed that last season!

We do have problems - I remember Nick writing an article previewing the Puel season where he said 10th this season would be an improvement on 6th. Of course he was mocked for the logic but he was right that we could expect to fall back a bit and consolidate. I would contend that what has happened over the last (nearly) 3 seasons is a lot, lot worse than that and it is down to the club for allowing Les Reed to continue. It is beyond belief that we have a very poor centre of defence and forwards who hardly ever score. That is not bad luck it it poor planning and running of the club. I am not asking for sackings just a vast improvement in getting the basics right.

SaintBrock added 09:42 - Mar 12
bstokesaint, we made a particularly good signing in December did we not?

SaintBrock added 09:45 - Mar 12
The unanswered question is who signed Ralph or more pertinently who recommended him? Was it Kreuger or a pal of his? Just asking but hard to dispute that this person has superb judgement. maybe he should choose the payers to bring in as well.

SaintPaulVW added 10:47 - Mar 12
Yoshida isn't the answer going forwards but he's the best option now. He is certainly no worse than Hoedt or Stephens. We definitely need a CB to develop into a solid presence or we need to buy one.

Similarly up front we need a striker, perhaps obafemi/ Sims/ Gallagher are that player if not we need to buy.

We have bought strikers Gabbiadini, Carillobut they don't seem to have worked out. We bought Vestergaard but he doesn't seem quite there yet. So we have tried. Les had to go though as it's s results business.

If the players who could fill these gaps weren't available in January then fair enough. If our existing players don't grow into these roles then if we don't recruit we will have continued problems.

We've played well enough to be able to stay up. Just need to keep the momentum up which will be tricky with this gap. Great to see players seizing their chance if Redmond could just improve the consistency of that final ball of his I'd be far more happier. Both Ralph's have done s good job in my book and I hope they get their rewards next season.

BoondockSaint added 14:34 - Mar 12
If Ralph K. is the one who hired Ralph H., he deserves all the praise in the world. However, Nick, i can find no evidence to support this:

"There is a tendency amongst some to refer to Ralph Krueger as a "Hockey coach" etc etc, but although he is that he has also run sporting franchises in America so has extensive experience of doing the job needed."

He has never run a sporting franchise in America and only coached the Oilers for half a season (in his defense, the team was bad, they got rid of the coach, brought Ralph in for the last half of the season, they failed to make the playoffs and a whole new administration was brought in, so they cleaned house to hire who they wanted). Your statement makes it seem like he was general manager of the NY Yankees or Dallas Cowboys!

I for one, wish he was more like a "hockey coach" because one of the main rules is never do deals that help teams that are your competition in the standings and never, ever, do a deal with teams that are your hated arch rivals.


Gladys89 added 04:36 - Mar 14
Thank you for your blog. Thanks Again. Really Great.

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