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30 Apr 2018

Southampton: Mark Hughes can pull off an unlikely survival success

Southampton: Mark Hughes can pull off an unlikely survival
success

With only three games remaining, Southampton's Premier League survival is in peril - but they can turn it around.

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Nothing three points can't fix

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Mark Hughes under pressure

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'Two games' to do it

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Too little, too late?

(Photo credit: Reuters/Tony O'Brien)

It's been a torrid season at St. Mary's as the continuous end-of-season exodus looks to have finally caught up with Southampton.

The club has been playing with fire for the last few seasons, allowing their best players to leave and not adequately replacing them.

With the bubble looking set to finally burst on their constant offloading strategy, a crucial home win over south-coast rivals Bournemouth couldn't have come at a better time. 

Saints are now only one point behind Swansea in 17th, and with the two still to play each other, an improbable escape could yet still be pulled off.

Nothing three points can't fix

No matter how bad of a run a club is on, no matter how many games they've lost, no matter how many games it's been since a victory - it's remarkable what three points can do for a team's confidence.

In Southampton's case, it couldn't be more applicable. Before Saturday's victory over Bournemouth, they had won only five league games. Of those five, only one came in their last 21 fixtures - form that deserves relegation.

(Photo credit: Reuters/Tony O'Brien)

Somehow, however, after Saturday's round of fixtures, they're only one point off safety. At this stage of the season, in this situation, belief has come when it was most needed.

A defeat to Eddie Howe's side would have all but sealed their fate, and had it not been for Alex McCarthy's denial of a Ryan Fraser effort late on, a draw would have certainly felt like one.

It would always be a nervy finish, but it was a result that was very much needed to breathe a new sense of hope, of life, into a squad that looked so lacking in confidence.

Mark Hughes under pressure

Southampton's form hasn't drastically changed since the board removed Mauricio Pellegrino from his untenable position. 

Turning to Mark Hughes, who had just left Stoke City in a similarly precarious position, fans weren't filled with the warmest of feelings. Given the awful run that the Hughes-led Potters side had been on prior to his dismissal, it was a rather bizarre gamble by the club's board.

Hughes had won only five of his first 22 league games in charge at the Bet365 Stadium, a record that incorporated the division's worst defence at that stage - an embarrassing loss to Coventry City in the FA Cup was the nail in his coffin.

(Photo credit: REUTERS/Hannah Mckay)

Since arriving on the south-coast, Hughes had only won once; a 2-0 away win at League One Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup before Saturday. 

The win over Bournemouth was only his sixth in 28 matches this season. 

Despite his woeful 2017/18 as a manager, Hughes is staring down the barrel of the embarrassing situation of relegating two teams in one season with Stoke City languishing one place behind his current side.

It'll be a situation that the Welshman will want to avoid at all costs, and he'll be desperate for his players to help bail him out.

'Two games' to do it

Southampton will take a pinch of positivity from the fact that the two sides below them have played a game extra; both Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion have played 36.

Despite having the extra game, Hughes and his side will naturally have their eyes drawn to the final day of the season where they entertain a Manchester City side on a warpath to record-setting heights. 

A trip to Goodison Park to face Everton looms at the weekend where Saints will undoubtedly look to take positives before heading into what could be arguably the biggest 'six-pointer' of the season when they travel to Swansea City on the 8th. 

While Southampton are on Merseyside, they'll be keeping a close eye on scores in Manchester as Huddersfield Town - with only one win in their last seven - head to the Etihad Stadium to play Manchester City. 

(Photo credit: Reuters/Tony O'Brien)

The Terriers then have to go to Stamford Bridge midweek to face a Chelsea side that haven't yet given up on a late push for a top-four spot. 

Swansea travel to a Bournemouth side who'll be eager to push for an impressive top-half finish. Stoke City, in their penultimate fixture, host a rejuvenated Crystal Palace, who are fresh from a 5-0 thumping of Leicester City last time out. 

Two games, six maximum points, and an awful lot to be decided. 

Either way, with that less-than-ideal last game, Saints will hope that it can be all but wrapped up before the final weekend. 

Though, they'll take positives from the fact that their goal difference is superior enough to those around them it'll count as an extra point once the dust settles on May 13. 

Of those teams still in the dogfight, it'll surely be David Wagner's Huddersfield Town that are least looking forward to the coming fixtures.

Too little, too late?

Few would disagree that only six wins in 35 games is the form that warrants a team to be sent packing for the next campaign.

Southampton will be all too aware that this season has been a total disaster, but it's one that has been coming. Selling your top players year after year and not filling the gaps isn't typically part of the Premier League survival guide, and this situation has been coming.

While the likes of Huddersfield Town and Brighton and Hove Albion were the early favourites to make an instant return to the Championship, Southampton's internal implosion had once again gone somewhat unnoticed. 

Once the inevitable sale of Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool finally went through in January, there wasn't much left of the Southampton 'top player' spine. 

Whatever the eventual outcome of this season is, it'll be a much-needed wake-up call for the ownership. 

Can they turn it around and pull it off...? With the fixtures remaining for them and their relegation rivals... they just might. 

What do you think? Will Southampton save themselves this season? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.