Southampton are on the cusp of preserving their Premier League status following their crucial 1-0 win against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday night.
Saints came into the clash in 17th position and only above their opponents on goal difference, and they knew that in reality they had to pick up all three points given they host Manchester City at St Mary’s on the final day, while the Swans welcome already-relegated Stoke City to south Wales.
The south coast outfit have hovered in and around the relegation zone for much of the season, but when they surrendered a two-goal lead against Chelsea with just 20 minutes to play – eventually losing 3-2 – it seemed that they were down and out despite the arrival of Mark Hughes a few weeks beforehand.
That loss to the Blues left them five points from safety with just five fixtures left to play, and with one victory to their name since the end of November the St Mary’s faithful were quickly losing hope.
Luckily for them, their team has turned things around and showed the fight that needed to under Hughes to take eight points from a possible 12 available since then, to leave them on the verge of survival.
Barring a 10-goal swing between them and Swansea on Sunday, they will be playing Premier League football again next season, and it will be a lucky escape in what has been a disastrous campaign for a club that other similarly-sized ones used to be envious of and look up to.
Ever since Ronald Koeman left for Everton in 2016, things have gone downhill for the south coast outfit, and much of that is to do with poor decisions at board level.
Vice-chairman Les Reed and chairman Ralph Krueger chose Claude Puel as the man to take the club forward following Koeman’s departure, and while the Frenchman led them to an eighth-place finish, his rotation and overall negative style of play meant that he wasn’t popular with the fans, or the players.
The failure to get out of a Europa League group that they should have done – they failed to score away in three matches – was particularly disappointing, and one of the reasons Puel was relieved of his duties at the end of the campaign.
Southampton hadn’t been used to getting decisions like that wrong having had Alan Pardew, Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pochettino and then Koeman at the helm previously, as well as striking lucky with their recruitment when their best players moved on to the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Krueger and Reed needed to get the next appointment right seeing as they finished in eighth but were just six points above 17th, showing the fine margins between the sides outside of the top six in the top flight.
The feeling is that they thought they would attract better managers than they perhaps did for the role, and in the end they took a risk by bringing Mauricio Pellegrino to St Mary’s following an above average season with newly-promoted Alaves in La Liga.
It was a disastrous decision, but perhaps what was even worse was the arrogance from Reed and Krueger not to admit their mistake and get rid of the Argentine manager sooner than they did, when it was clear things weren’t getting better.
He could have easily gone after the 4-1 loss at home to Leicester City in December, the 5-2 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur a fortnight later or the 2-1 reverse at home to fellow strugglers Crystal Palace at the start of January – a perfect chance to get in a new manager while the transfer window was still open.
Instead, they dithered and dithered and in the end they made another terrible decision just before deadline day as they let Pellegrino bring Guido Carrillo in from Monaco on a club-record deal.
That was an unforgivable error given that the manager was sacked little over a month later, and the quality and mentality of the striker has perhaps been best highlighted by the fact that he has often struggled to make the matchday squad since Hughes took over in March.
Not sacking Pellegrino earlier was a decision that almost cost Southampton their Premier League status, and a change in tact in terms of transfers that has seen them buy players that are out of favour with big clubs rather than buying the best from other leagues hasn’t worked out either.
Reed and Krueger may think that they are sitting comfortably if Saints do – as expected – stay up, but the supporters showed their discontent on Twitter when the former was linked with a role for England last month, and owner Gao Jisheng shouldn’t be at all happy either.
The duo – Reed especially – may have done good jobs in the past, but they have failed the St Mary’s faithful over the course of the last two seasons and it is time for a change – otherwise the south coast outfit could find themselves in a similar situation in 12 months’ time.