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Time To Deliver On The Good Work So Far This Season
Wednesday, 20th Oct 2021 09:39

Rome wasn't built in a day is a phrase that has gone out of fashion with football club owners and also some of the fans, but for a club like Saints who can't compete financially with the big guns, it is about steady growth.

Four years ago on paper things looked rosy for Southampton Football Club, they had just completed their fourth consecutive top 8 finish in the Premier League, two Europa League Campaigns and had also played in the League Cup Final.

Bizarrely to football supporters across the land we sacked a manager in Claude Puel who had led us to perhaps the 6th best season in our history.

We didn't realise it back then but our success had been built on sand, the four consecutive top 8 finishes had been achieved by 3 different managers and we had lost direction.

Back in the summer of 2017 we had not quite reached rock bottom, but we very nearly did that coming season when Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes nearly took us down to the Championship and the re appointed Hughes in season 2018/19 looked set to achieve that if he stayed in that role.

In short on paper it looked good, but we had had a succession of managers in the past 4 years each of whom had their own ideas and signed their own players, there was no real blueprint.

Enter Ralph Hasenhuttl, who joined a club that had lost focus both on and off the pitch and some poor signings meant that his hands were tied due to a high wage bill on players who were not playing for our first team.

Hasenhuttl was appointed as he was the type of manager who was in it for the long haul, he was not just interested in the first team, but the whole structure of the club, he spent lockdown not like the rest of us watching Tipping Point on the sofa, but writing a structure for the club from the academy set up to the First team.

It was never going to be a quick and easy fix, it was always going to be about slow steady progress.

Over the past two years we have slowly but surely got some of those big salary's off the books and slowly started to rebuild the squad with some astute signings.

Last season highlighted the lack of depth in the squad in the second half of the season after topping the Premier League in the first, but we stayed up comfortably and also had an FA Cup semi final appearance.

The summer saw some astute signings and looking at the squad you could see how much it had changed for the better over the last couple of years, yes it had lost Danny Ings, but every player has to move on sometime and his departure brought in cash to strengthen the squad.

So although there is still work to be done and positions to be filled in the squad, at the start of the season we could look forward to the season with a little confidence, but the moment the fixture list came out it was clear that the opening 8 games would not be easy.

We would play 3 of the top 4 sides of the previous season and with West Ham it would make 4 of the top 6 and overall 6 of last seasons top 10. leaving just Wolves and Newcastle United, both teams who had finished above us.

It would not be an easy start, the same 8 corresponding fixtures last season yielded just 2 points.

An opening day defeat at Everton revealed some deficiencies, but 4 consecutive draws showed that we had improved in some areas, the defeat to Wolves was perhaps the most disappointing result of the opening spell, but we had not played badly, just failed to create and take chances and fall to a sucker punch.

Defeat at Chelsea seemed to bring out the critics in the fan base, they ignored the fact that we had taken the current European Champions and Premier League leaders to the last 6 minutes before they could beat what was a side down to 10 men and the knives came out.

But although the final League table usually doesn't lie, the standings in the first half of the season often do and although we sat 4th from bottom with one game left of that opening 8, we had had a far more challenging fixture list of those around us.

In certain respects the game against Leeds united was make or break, by the end of it we could potentially be in the bottom 3 or we could be heading away from the relegation zone.

At the start of the season i highlighted these 8 games and surmised that although it would not look good in terms of the League table that 5 points perhaps even as low as 4 would be a reasonable return from the opening 8 given the opposition.

The most pleasing aspect was perhaps we competed in all of the games, we were in with a chance of winning all of the those games right up until the final minutes, at Everton and Chelsea at least a draw looked likely as we approached the final 10 minutes.

We were a team that still had spirit and was playing for it's manager, unlike Leeds on Saturday who put in a gutless performance, that could not be levelled at Saints in any game this season, yes lapses of concentration cost us, but never a lack of fight.

The win against Leeds though made it 7 points from 8 games and a solid start to the season if we take everything into account, but now the real work begins, we have put in place some good foundations and now we have to build on them.

Having got some good points on the board though, now comes a run of winnable games, Burnley, Watford & Norwich in the next 4 are games that will set the tone for the season, we win them and we move right up the table, lose them and we undo all the hard work.

Sandwiched in the middle of this run is Aston Villa at home, that again is a fixture that will show us where we can finish in the table, beat the other three and we show we are not relegation candidates, beat Villa and we start to suggest we can push towards a top 10 place.

These 4 fixtures are vital to our season, because when they are completed we go into another run of tough fixtures starting with Liverpool away and then 7 toughies in December.

But first we have to dispose of Burnley who have yet to win a game, but remain a side who are hard to beat as Manchester City found at the weekend, the type of side we don't like to play, who sit back on their own penalty area and pump the ball forward and catch teams on the break, this was the case for us against Wolves and we have to show we have the discipline not to let them take advantage of lapses in concentration.

So although some will say otherwise we have done some good work this season, not perfect, but enough to have given us a foundation we can build on going forward, now we have to step up a notch.

Photo: Action Images

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IanRC added 10:41 - Oct 20
Just hope we have a decent fair referee. Uncommon in the PL unfortunately nowadays.

underweststand added 10:50 - Oct 20
You are looking to get a huge variety of responses to this article (Nick). Aren't you.
I can forsee a number of your regular contributors really canning your conclusions and demanding Ralph's sacking because he isn't up to the standard of ; Guardiola, Klopp and Touchel without conceding that the top clubs have " bottomless pockets " when it comes to buying in new at hugely exorbitant fees, and Saints (like many other Prem. sides) have to look for "diamonds in the rough ".
HOWEVER, I don't disagree with many of the points you raised and recalling that despite all else Ralph hasn't been able to buy in those players that he personally might have liked (typ ex-Leipzig), whilst our UK scouting staff have done well with the acquisition of the young talents like ex-Chelsea.
Real Success for Saints has been a generational thing for managers ; 1966 promotion with Bates, 1976 FA Cup win with McMenemy. Later back into the top tier 1978 (Nicholl) and the in-between seasons had often been one of pure survival. 2010 we went from L1 to Prem. in 2 years with Adkins, and later the more recent Euro sojourn with Koeman.

The rapidly increasing cost of top players has meant that we have been unable to sign "top " players and many who remained uncapped at international level whilst the likes of Grealish and Sancho demand enormous fees that IMHO - far outweigh their talent.

For Saints ..Success can be defined as Prem. SURVIVAL and little else. Historically, an occasional Cup run, or a string of wins that helps us consolidate "mid-table safety" and the inevitable dilemma of selling our better talents to help balance the club's economy.
After 60 years of supporting Saints, there is always the enduring hope that the coming decade might be the one that gives us some real success again. I live in hope.


SaintNick added 11:39 - Oct 20
I expect a variety of responses, I just hope that most look at the bigger picture rather than just claim that a new owner and manager would change the situation completely

landerwal added 12:19 - Oct 20
Getting rid of the manager and the owner would certainly change things We'd be in the Championship or even having to play that team down the road in League 1.

Colburn added 12:22 - Oct 20
I think the first three words of the title you have given this article is all that is required to summarise our situation and although I'm one of those who thought recently that Ralph's time is up, I will be delighted to see us win a few more and him stay. What I do not understand is the false representations of the mindset and thoughts of those who want a change.. Accusations of short sightedness and not seeing a big picture can not be backed up by facts and stats. Your opinion is based on hope, not results, but I do hope that what you are hoping for does materialize and Ralph picks up the results and the belief, direction and confidence is back throughout the club. To recently accuse those fans of being wrong when you can't name one club who would have kept faith with their manager after two 9-0 defeats and 5 wins in 29 shows a serious imbalance when you represent your comments on those fans. This is the point you fail to realize or accept. It's not necessarily about people being short sighted, it's just a different opinion on our plight and the solutions to problems.
Let's hope we win the next couple and relieve the pressure.

Colburn added 12:31 - Oct 20
I would imagine that Rome was built by slaves, therefore I would suggest it was built quicker than the time Ralph has had here.. Just saying... And I'm not too sure we want to build something like that anyway.. Not the most ethical of comparisons...

WestSussexSaint added 13:35 - Oct 20
I don’t subscribe to the Ralph out now position, partly because of the experience we had post Puel when most fans thought we could do better! But mainly because on the whole I think Ralph has done a reasonable job. As underweststand puts it, Saints minimum objective each year must be to maintain the PL status so in that respect job done.

That said, the goodwill capital that Ralph built up largely off the back of the second half of the 2019/20 season and first half of last season has been pretty much eroded by results since then. You can argue that last seasons decline was down to a small squad but Ralph has previously liked working that way and had plenty of opportunity to get more players in or stop some leaving on loan.

So on balance Ralph and his team do now have to deliver. 10 points from this run of 5 games (including the 3 from Leeds) will buy Ralph more time. Less than 6 and the board should seriously be considering a change before the January transfer window.

JoeEgg added 14:12 - Oct 20
As on many occasions WestSussesSaint, in my view, says it best - "So on balance Ralph and his team do now have to deliver. 10 points from this run of 5 games (including the 3 from Leeds) will buy Ralph more time. Less than 6 and the board should seriously be considering a change before the January transfer window."
Did we have a much better squad during the final Koeman season? You can answer that one for yourself. We had a side that was both exciting to watch and also frightend the life out of even the top six League sides.
We are all Saints supporters and want the best for our club. There is not another club that would have kept their manager after two 9-0 defeats and just 5 wins in 29 matches. I believe we have, probably thanks mainly to some good work from our scouts, the most promising squad for many a season. The next five games will show if we have the right man in place to get the best out of the current group of players.

saint901 added 17:40 - Oct 20
The issue here is that "progress" has to be towards a goal, an objective.

What is that objective?

We are literally in a different financial league to City, Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and now Newcastle. They have resources that permit them to have experienced international players on the bench and still field a team capable of winning any match. Realistically therefore a regular top 4 to top 6 finish is beyond us.

Similarly, we have resource for a decent enough squad to stay out of the bottom 4 to 6 on a regular basis. We don't always play to that position and that is sometimes down to individual player error and sometimes RH's lack of tactical nouse. We should however be beating at least two of the promoted teams and two of the mid table outfits who usually have a poor season.

Pitching an objective in pure football terms is therefore relatively unexciting. A place in the table between say 7th and 15th represents a realistic ambition. In that, I think RH is competent enough even if prone to the odd mis-step.

Worryingly the biggest threat to that modest ambition is the brittle confidence in the team. I'm hoping that the fresh blood forced into the team by suspension and injury but which saw a confident display against Leeds, can be maintained. Certainly against a stubborn team like Burnley that belief is necessary. RH fails here for me. Whilst he can do little about individual player errors, he can influence and direct the spirit in the team. "Managing" is in his title and should be his skill set. I'd like to see a focus there.

The owners of the club need to be clear in their ambition. Are they in the club for the glory or the profit? If the latter, then a club with mid table ambition is perhaps acceptable. They get to enjoy a business that may return them something and with the hope that a star will be found and a big pay day arrives.

If they want the glory - and that's why the City and now Newcastle owners are involved,- then Saints are not that - or at least not that without serious money being invested on a long term plan.

So define the ambition, plot a plan and then measure progress,

A1079 added 17:53 - Oct 20
I think Westsussex saint sums it up well. I don't think you could ever say that Saints fans are knee jerk or reactionary - they may be at the immediate aftermath of a specific result - what fan of any club isn't but in the broad spectrum of things we are pretty balanced, realistic and manage our expectations well on the whole. Not many fans of many clubs would have tolerated two 9-0 defeats in a 12 month period and the serious run of poor results that we have had in 2021.

That said, whilst my opinion of Ralph as a coach and manager is less rose glinted than it once was I am not yet in a position where I feel the need to pull the plug on him. I agree with some other posters, the next few matches are key. One win against a poor Leeds side (admittedly one we still had to win and which was thoroughly enjoyable) does not suddenly mean everything is alright but 10 points in a run of 5 games would suggest that we are moving in the right direction.

We can argue about the influence of the owners, the way the club is run, the strength of the squad etc but at times Ralph has shot himself in the foot with his selections, positioning of certain players and poor substitutions. But on other occasions he has got it bang on. So, it is not black and white, it rarely is. It is not all bad but equally just because we got a win last weekend it is not all suddenly all ok. Fail to beat Burnley and there will be a sense that we are back to square one.

I do think we have some good potential in the squad (though I fear we could lose some of those if they are not given a fair crack - I am thinking KWP and Tella here) and with a bit better quality and composure and finishing up front we could push on a bit - though I cannot see us competing in the top 8 any time soon.

As many have said, we all want to see Saints and Ralph do well because that works for us all. But, if something does not work or you do not see improvement then it is not a bottomless pit of goodwill.

stmichael added 09:35 - Oct 21
We were victims of success. If a club like Saints consistently finishes in the top 8 it is usually because you have a very good manager. Very good managers see Saints as a stepping stone and leave for clubs with bigger aspirations. Not to mention players who will also be in demand obviously. When it happens you need a plan and our plans have not been good enough for the last 3 or 4 years with regard Managerial and Player recruitment. previously it was..

SonicBoom added 14:44 - Oct 21
We are always going to be in the situation with the manager where if we are bad and get relegated he will get the sack. If we do well and rise up the table he leaves for a bigger job.
Stability for us is achieved through mediocrity!

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