The Southampton supporters were absolutely delighted in the Transfer Tavern on Sunday afternoon after their side secured their place in the semi-final of the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium.
Mark Hughes made his Saints bow on Sunday afternoon with a tricky looking fixture against a side who had already taken three Premier League scalps in the FA Cup this season prior to kick-off. Despite The Saints abysmal form of late, they were able to end The Latics brilliant cup run and set up a semi-final clash against Chelsea at Wembley next month.
The result should serve to give the Southampton players and supporters a huge morale-boost after being clouded by pessimism for months under the leadership of Mauricio Pellegrino. Southampton had to ride their luck at times and it’s fair to say that Hughes has plenty of work on his hands to steer the club to safety in the final weeks of the season, but it’s exactly the start he would have been hoping for.
However, some of the traits which have defined Southampton’s below-par season so far were prevalent throughout their trip to the North-West, as they lacked a cutting edge in the final-third all afternoon against League One opposition. Hughes made a statement of intent with his first-team selection as he opted to start both Guido Carrillo and Manolo Gabbiadini upfront as part of a 4-4-2 formation.
Hughes’ selection was a breath of fresh air for the club following months of consistently negative tactics, and the fact Southampton scored 2 goals and ultimately won the game proves his decision paid off. But Hughes had to rely on two defenders to score the winning goals as his attackers once again struggled to create much by way of goal-scoring opportunities throughout proceedings.
Southampton did have their chances though, as Gabbiadini found himself in a glorious position shortly into the second-half following a defensive error by Wigan, but his effort was brilliantly saved by Christian Walton. The Italian then missed an opportunity to double Southampton’s lead from the penalty spot with just under 20 minutes to play, which served to underline the clubs lack of confidence in front of goal right now.
The international break will lend Hughes some well-needed time to implement a new training regime before their huge six-pointer clash against West Ham at the end of March, and if he wishes to keep Southampton in the league this season then he must place a large emphasis on improving the attacking elements of his side’s game. Considering how blunt Southampton have been in the final-third this season, it will be a difficult challenge for Hughes to undertake, but it’s one which he simply has to succeed in to ensure his side retain their Premier League status.