Tuesday 4 December 2018 9:18 pm

Trevor Steven: Missed opportunities cost Mark Hughes at Southampton

When Southampton needed someone to steer them away from the threat of relegation last season, they banked on Premier League experience.

Mark Hughes replaced Mauricio Pellegrino for the final eight games and the former Stoke, Fulham, Manchester City and Blackburn boss saved them from the drop.

He proved that he knew how to organise and motivate the players, and vital wins over Bournemouth and Swansea saw them survive by three points.

This season, however, Saints quickly got into a rut. Their only league win came against Crystal Palace on 1 September and since then they have missed several good opportunities to beat other teams around them in the bottom half of the table.

Hughes paid for that run on Monday, when he was sacked.

Blunt attack

Southampton’s major problem this term has been scoring. In 14 league games they have managed just 12 — less than a goal a game.

They can be an attractive team to watch and create a lot of chances — they have had the third highest number of shots, after City and Chelsea — but if they don’t take them then they are vulnerable defensively.

Shane Long, Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini have just one league goal between them so far, making Danny Ings, with four, a relative success. But that’s enough from their frontline.

I think they miss the quality of Dusan Tadic, who left St Mary’s for Ajax in the summer.

He could make the difference in tight games and I don’t see anyone else in the Saints squad who is capable of that.

Tadic was an influential player and they haven’t replaced him. Perhaps they underestimated his value to the team. Meanwhile, he’s doing brilliantly in Holland.

Over the years Southampton became known for unearthing some great players, both from their academy and the transfer market.

That hasn’t happened lately. They don’t have the resources to shop at the top level, so when a signing doesn’t work out they get exposed in this ultra-competitive league.

Points dropped

When Hughes looks back, he will probably reflect that a failure to win games against Bournemouth, Newcastle and Fulham cost him his job.

Victories in those fixtures would have given Southampton an extra seven points, which would have them 13th in the table instead of 18th.

They should have got results, especially in the Fulham game when they led but ended up losing.

Timing has also played a part in Hughes’s downfall. It is still only early December and there is plenty of time to turn around a failing team.

Other managers in the bottom half have had terrible runs — Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle took two points from the first nine games. But Benitez managed to win three in a row before this perilous point in the season for coaches.

Southampton chiefs may have been mindful of a difficult run, with games with Tottenham, Arsenal and City to come before the end of the month. The January transfer window, before which clubs prefer to act, is also looming.

End of an era

With Hughes being sacked, and none of Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew or David Moyes currently employed in the top flight, it does feel a little like the end of an era.

Premier League clubs are more inclined than ever to look to the continent for inspiration, and Southampton are said to want Austrian Ralph Hasenhuttl, previously of RB Leipzig, to replace Hughes.

British managers can become pigeonholed, unfairly sometimes. Ultimately, results make or break bosses and it is a poor run than has cost Hughes.