BOURNEMOUTH, England (Reuters) - Southampton were hotly tipped to be headed out of the Premier League and manager Ralph Hasenhuettl out of the door after a record-breaking 9-0 home thumping by Leicester City in October.
But almost 10 months on, the club could finish the elongated season sitting comfortably in 11th place while Hasenhuettl can take his side into the new campaign with reputation enhanced.
“It has been a very strange season, but we must try and consolidate this position and start again next season,” said the Austrian manager after his side beat relegation-threatened Bournemouth 2-0 away on Sunday.
The victory lifted Saints above Everton on to 49 points -- their highest total over the last four seasons.
“We want more. We have one more to get to 50, and we want one more win,” Hasenhuettl told the post-match news conference.
Southampton are at home to Sheffield United on the last day of the season next Sunday, having lost only one of eight post COVID-19 lockdown games, while collecting 15 points.
“We worked very hard and have been self-critical,” Hasenhuettl explained.
“Also our game with the ball has moved up a level. We play quick and create chances. This is key to being a better Premier League team. We can't fall back now. We are hungry to be successful.”
One thing they will have to work on next term is their form at St Mary's, especially in the wake of that biggest home defeat suffered by a club in English top-flight history in October.
On the road, only champions Liverpool and second-placed Manchester City have fared better this season. Southampton have nine wins and 31 points from their 19 away games.
But at St Mary’s, Hasenhuettl’s men have won five times in 18 matches and taken just 18 points. Only relegated Norwich City have a worse home record this season.
The manager does not seem particularly bothered though. “We go everywhere to win, at home or away," he said.
“We don't fight any differently. We changed a few things since the lockdown and got the win against Manchester City at home. It is a stat for you, but not for us,” he told reporters.
Then there is the strike rate of Danny Ings, whose 21 goals put him two behind Jamie Vardy of Leicester City in the race to finish as the league’s top marksman.
“He is unbelievable for us and he works hard for us,” added Hasenhuettl.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)