Unfortunately for Mark Hughes, Southampton’s performance in their 3-2 defeat to Fulham on the weekend seemed to show that the players are no longer motivated to fight for their manager as they slipped into the relegation zone.
Things aren’t about to get any easier for Hughes’s side either with games against Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal to come in their next five league fixtures, and the 55-year-old boss should be seriously worried about his job.
Their display against fellow strugglers Fulham lacked conviction and any semblance of winning mentality, but there was also another argument for sacking Hughes on display at Craven Cottage.
Surprisingly, it was a strong performance from a player on their own team that provided the biggest case for a change of management at the South Coast club.
Summer signing Stuart Armstrong was hugely impressive in an attacking midfield role and scored twice, posing the question as to just why Hughes has frozen him out in recent weeks. In fact, the £7m summer signing from Celtic had only started two Premier League games for Saints before the weekend.
His two goals though proved his quality and showed why he could be the man to keep Southampton in the Premier League. The first opened the scoring for Hughes’s side as 26-year-old Armstrong arrived late in the box to pick up a loose ball and squeeze it past Sergio Rico in the Fulham net.
After they had conceded twice and lost the lead, Armstrong then brought Southampton level with a fantastic strike into the top corner as he arrived from an even deeper position to hammer his shot first-time. Saints though couldn’t hold on and Aleksandar Mitrovic netted his second of the game to secure the win for the West London club.
Armstrong’s performance though was a shining light on a bad day for Southampton.
Having a player of this quality in your squad and failing to pick him when down in a relegation fight though is criminal from Hughes, and should be added to the list of reasons why he will not see out the season at St Mary’s.
With a creative talent such as Armstrong, who is clearly also a strong finisher, Southampton should easily escape the drop if they change the man in charge this season.