Who needs father Christmas when you have Ralph Hasenhüttl? The Austrian’s appointment has to be the Christmas present every Saints fan has been hoping for since the beginning of the season.
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OK, Mark Hughes did the job he was originally hired to do – that is, keep us up last season – but after that it quickly became apparent that, much like his former club Manchester United, another team enjoying the effects of the new manager ‘bounce’, the joy had been sucked out of our football.
Barring the Cardiff defeat, which was too early in Hasenhüttl’s appointment for him to have any real effect, the two victories the ex-Leipzig man has presided over have been a joy to watch. It’s such a more dynamic style of play than we’ve seen all season, and players such as Nathan Redmond are unrecognisable.
Until that magnificent win against Arsenal he’d had 27 shots on goal without scoring – the worst ratio in the Premier League; now he has two goals and an assist in two games, and looks a threat every time he goes forward.
Danny Ings too looks a player completely transformed. Rather than the two headers against Arsenal last weekend, it was his penalty, oddly, that spelled out just how confident he looks. He had the calmness to let Jonas Lössl commit before slotting the ball the opposite way, and was already celebrating before the net rippled, so sure he is in his abilities now.
His partnership with Charlie Austin is going to be instrumental in keeping us up this season, and I have no doubt that, should he stay fit and at the club through the transfer window, that’s exactly what he’ll do.
That’s not to say Hasenhüttl’s appointment is the magic bullet that will keep us in the Premier League. Defensively we’re still not rock solid – Jannik Vestergaard's performances have been inconsistent, and I don’t think we’ve found the perfect defensive combination yet. So for me that’s the area we need to strengthen in the January transfer window; we really need another Virgil van Dijk in the heart of the defence above all else.
But after railing against our inability to score, life under Hasenhüttl is starting to look rosy – six goals in two games after 13 in the previous 16, with the midfield starting to chip in and youngster Michael Obafemi getting what I’m sure will be the first of many top-flight goals.
The 18-year-old is a real pocket rocket, with strength, speed and bags of natural ability, and I can see him flourishing under Hasenhüttl’s guidance.
It’s bizarre how three games under a new manager can completely transformed a season (in fact Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have done it in one), but that’s exactly what Hasenhüttl’s appointment has done.
And although we still sit in a meagre 16th place at Christmas, suddenly the new year seems a much brighter prospect, and that’s not just because our new gaffer bought us all a beer last weekend!
I have a feeling though that he’s not going to have to buy our loyalty – his infectious passion and enthusiasm has already won it. The new manager bounce is in full effect and long may it continue!