Southampton decided against heading into the transfer market in January.
Under Ralph Hasenhuttl, the club instead opted to shift players off the wage bill. Manolo Gabbiadini was allowed to move to Sampdoria while Wesley Hoedt joined Celta Vigo on loan and Cedric Soares headed to Inter Milan.
The axe was wielded – the players had played 43 Premier League games between them just this season alone – and no replacements were found.
It can be argued, of course, that the Saints were not looking to bring anyone in.
Hasenhuttl himself said in January that he simply did not need to sign a player.
“The team have shown that they have more potential in them than people thought,” he told Sky Sports. “We didn’t have to immediately bring new players in.
“We tried to create potential and quality, and I think we did that. That doesn’t mean we are not looking, because we are looking, but we’ll only do a transfer if it helps us immediately and also for the future.”
That, quite simply, has been proved to be a fallacy. In recent weeks, in particular, Southampton have roundly failed to defend. A loss to Cardiff City dropped the club into the relegation zone and the options at centre-back suddenly look remarkably thin.
Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard appear immovable at the heart of the defence but both Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens seem to lack the basic awareness needed to keep clean sheets in a back three.
Stephens, indeed, stood in for Yoshida while he headed to the Asian Cup with Japan but he has never looked fully comfortable. It was his mistake that led to Cardiff’s winning goal – he did score the equaliser in the 2-1 defeat but, given the magnitude of his mistake, that is by the by after he gifted possession to the opposition.
Hasenhuttl’s plan not to bring in a player at the time was admirable but it now appears foolish. He cannot change his backline as he is unable to bring in a new face who can shore things up between now and May as the Saints battle bravely against relegation.
They are better than both Fulham and Huddersfield Town, the sides below them, but their standard of football has been so poor that it is faint praise. Newcastle United, in 16th, invested in January and so too did Cardiff, in 17th. They both look better for it.
Saints have to get by with what they have and it may well work. Hasenhuttl may rouse his men and inspire them. He has done it before – they went five unbeaten before their defeat to Cardiff – but the circumstances were different. Then, Southampton were buoyed by a new appointment, believing in a manager whose methods were new and exciting.
Now, the real test begins, as Hasenhuttl attempts to pull Southampton out of the mire. Winning is a fantastic habit because it is so hard to do; losing, on the other hand, is a terrible habit, as it can be so very difficult to break.
We will never know if new signings would have pulled Saints clear of trouble but one thing is certain – failing to bring anybody in has inevitably made the quest for survival harder.