Southampton FC: Saints reap rewards for sticking with Ralph Hasenhüttl
They say a week's an age in football, so a month must feel like an eternity, especially for fans of Southampton.
The Saints have, to say the least, been through the wringer in the last couple of seasons, but some aspects of the 2019/20 campaign have been particularly grim.
Rewind just a few weeks to mid-December, for instance. Ralph Hasenhüttl's men have just been beaten by West Ham in what was a game they could scarcely afford to lose.
Doing so - a 1-0 defeat thanks to Sebastien Haller's solitary goal - left the Saints in the relegation zone, and looking in big trouble. While they had previously flirted with the danger of the drop in previous seasons, this was one occasion where it appeared the St. Mary's faithful had genuine cause for concern over their status in the Premier League, arguably for the first time since their meteoric rise back there in 2012. So what, then, has changed?
For me, Saints have been rewarded, big time, for showing patience with Hasenhüttl. The 52-year-old is clearly very highly thought of down on the south coast, and the chances of him going on to do great things in the Premier League seem pretty high. Be that as it may, none of that positivity helps when you're staring down the barrel and testing the patience of what is, generally, a very understanding set of supporters.
When things had begun to look bleak under Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes, the club arguably needed to act and did. So when results worsened earlier this season, and genuine relegation peril appeared to be lurking around the corner, there will have been a temptation, however small, to pull the trigger again and try to arrest the slide that had seen the side go on a run of one win in nine matches, including six defeats - not least of which was the 9-0 home drubbing at the hands of Leicester.
This time, Saints didn't move and didn't bow to the pressure. Most likely because they know that in the former RB Leipzig manager they have someone who the Southampton players, staff and supporters believe in, and who is respected as one of Europe's top coaches.
Their rewards for doing so are clear. Southampton are now, it seems, moving away from any impending danger around the bottom three, thanks to a run of four wins in five. This includes key victories against both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur over the Christmas period, while a victory in the FA Cup Third Round does them no harm either. West Ham, ironically, dispatched of their manager, Manuel Pellegrini, just weeks after that win at Southampton that had seemed so precious and vital.
"The Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint," said Hasenhüttl, just a few weeks ago. Credit must go to the Saints for not rushing into a rash decision that might well have seen them pay the ultimate price.