Have Southampton just secured a ticket into Europe?

When Southampton announced the signing of Charlie Austin over the weekend, it caught many by surprise. The prolific striker, whose QPR contract was set to expire at the end of the season, was snapped up by the south coast club for just £4m. A bargain.

The small amount of time left on his contract accounted for the price, but perhaps more surprising was the fact that it took a top flight club so long to sign the proven Premier League goalscorer. Having netted 18 goals in 35 games for a QPR side that was eventually relegated in 2014/15, and with the dearth of quality striking options available in January, it seems somewhat baffling that the 26-year-old hitman was not targeted by any of the ‘big boys’ in the league, even going back to the summer window.

No doubt, Southampton have got themselves a real bargain and should he reproduce the kind of form in front of goal that has seen him average at least a strike every other game at previous clubs Swindon, Burnley and QPR. I see no reason why the Saints can’t march up the table (excuse the pun!) and even improve on their seventh place from last season.

It’s been a slightly rocky campaign for Ronald Koeman’s side so far, but things had already started to look brighter even before the signing of Austin. After a gradual improvement over the last two seasons, many fancied them to have another solid campaign, and certainly challenge for a place in the upper echelons of the league.

And it certainly looked like that would be the case early on, as they lost only two of their first 12 Premier League games. But, a poor run of form in their following eight, that saw them lose six times and gather only one win (albeit the 4-0 trouncing of Arsenal on Boxing Day) – saw them quickly drop down the league table.

It looked at one point like things might continue on a downward spiral, with Koeman threatening to send want-away stars Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama ‘to the stands’ if they attempted to manufacture moves away from the club. They were also struggling to score goals, the Arsenal game aside. In fact, the Saints scored more in that game than they did in the other seven combined during that period. It looked like they might go from top six candidates to just another side scrapping around in midtable.

But with the new year came signs of a return to form. Unlucky to lose at Norwich, they followed it up with good 2-0 and 3-0 victories over Watford and West Brom respectively. Their general play once again looks good and the dissenting voices seemed to have been quashed by Koeman’s outburst.

And with this recent signing of Austin, things only look brighter for the side in red and white. If he can integrate into the squad quickly and grab half a dozen or more goals between now and the end of the season, I see no reason why last season’s seventh placed side can’t go one better, or even beyond.

In this topsy-turvy season where anything seems possible, and anyone can beat anyone, only really Manchester City and Arsenal look nailed on for a top-four finish. And with many of the sides above Saints inconsistent at best, I think they can steadily move up the table, even threatening the top four if they really get going.

Their next two fixtures are away at Manchester Utd and Arsenal, so this will be a good test of their abilities and should tell us a lot about ‘where they are’ as a side.

But with a quality array of attacking players – Mane, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle, etc, on top of new signing Austin, they certainly have the creativity and firepower to trouble anyone.