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Saints take vital step to safety but there is still work to be done

Read Sport logo Read Sport 31/03/2019 John Maylam
Ralph Hasenhüttl holding a football ball: Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton FC - Premier League © Dan Istitene/Getty Images Sport Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton FC - Premier League

Saints fans exhaled a huge sigh of relief following Saturday’s nervy 1-0 win over Brighton. 

Not only did we manage to hold on for the victory despite a late onslaught, but it also lifted us five points clear of the relegation zone; things are looking a lot rosier than they did a few months ago. 

Ralph Hassenhuttl deserves credit for turning around our fortunes in a short space of time after a collection of poor managerial appointments and reckless transfer dealings put this great club in danger of the dreaded drop two seasons in a row. 

He stated before the game that he would be happy to win ugly at this point and that is pretty much how the game played out: take the points and run. Who could blame him at this stage? 

Deep down, though, you can’t help feeling that the performance was far from convincing and that some areas still require some significant repair work. 

With a strong ball-winning midfield trio of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu, it remains a mystery as to why the team struggles to hold onto the ball and, unlike in this outing, a lead – the woodwork on Saturday saved us from the familiar script of surrendering a winning position. 

a man wearing a red shirt: Dan Istitene/Getty Images Sport © Dan Istitene/Getty Images Sport Dan Istitene/Getty Images Sport

In truth, Brighton were awful; perhaps their upcoming FA Cup semi-final in the back of their minds contributed to their flat performance. 

After going ahead and dominating proceedings, the Saints still reverted back into their collective shells, failing to maintain possession and rolling over onto their backs like a dog waiting for its owner to tickle it. 

A head-scratching substitution, bringing on Sam Gallagher for Danny Ings didn’t help either. The youngster was slow in possession, surprisingly poor in the air for his large frame and added absolutely no value to the cause at all. 

Surely, bringing on the pacy Josh Sims would have been a better option to keep Brighton on their toes and prevent them from committing too many forward? 

While Sims proved against Tottenham Hotspur that he has what it takes at this level, Gallagher did himself no favours, failing even to produce a simple pass into the corner with less than a minute left in injury time and gifting Brighton one more roll of the dice. 

Another point that continues to be an issue and needs addressing is Nathan Redmond’s final ball. A rare talent with pace and guile, he often wastes good positions by taking poor options, frustrating those around him. 

a man with a football ball on a field: Dan Istitene/Getty Images Sport © Dan Istitene/Getty Images Sport Dan Istitene/Getty Images Sport

He could be brilliant if he displayed more composure on the ball, and has shown that he is capable, as evidenced by his excellent pass to Hojbjerg for the decisive goal.

A notable positive at the back, though, was the steady performance of Angus Gunn. 

Alex McCarthy could count himself unlucky for being dropped after single-handedly keeping the Saints up last season and having done not too much wrong this season either. 

One key difference between him and Gunn, though. is the distribution from the back – the youngster is calm and composed with his feet, something McCarthy struggled with toward the end of his recent spell in the team. 

We are heading in the right direction for sure under the assured guidance of Ralph, and one can only wonder what he could deliver given a full pre-season and a transfer budget. 

His recent comments about trusting youth over experience in pressure situations were refreshing and enlightening, but let’s not kid ourselves; we are currently far from the finished product. 

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