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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Southampton may struggle to keep their hopes of staying up alive

Everton's old boys could come back to haunt Saints

Southampton manager Mark Hughes
1 of 1

BT Sport 1, 5.30pm Saturday

The sense of elation at St Mary’s last Saturday after Southampton's win over Bournemouth was palpable and it's little wonder Mark Hughes has been desperate to bring their fans back down to earth since.

One win, no matter how timely, hasn’t altered the fact that Saints need one more – maybe even two – from their last three matches to stay in the Premier League.

You can understand why Hughes has felt the need to preach heading into their next assignment at Everton.

But in fairness, there aren’t that many Sotonians, a realistic and depressed lot given the train wreck of a campaign that they’ve had to endure, who buy into the idea that points will come easily at either Goodison Park or Swansea’s Liberty Stadium.

The third match of their escape bid is at home to a Manchester City side who are chasing the magical 100-point barrier.

Indeed, there are probably many Saints’ punters who, looking at the prices chalked up for this tussle, would regard Sam Allardyce’s men as decent value and that could prove the correct conclusion.

Hughes got it right against the Cherries last weekend and all credit to him and his underperforming players for that.

He has dabbled with a back three since he replaced Mauricio Pellegrino but he has not quite worked out how to get the best from his players further forward.

Giving Dusan Tadic the freedom to roam in front of a pair of holding midfielders and with Charlie Austin a constant headache for the Bournemouth defence, the latest plan has worked.

Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares seem to enjoy their wing-back roles and Nathan Redmond had his best hour for months.

Now a team who have won just one away league game since September need to repeat the feat and it’s too simplistic to expect that to happen. After all, they haven’t become the finished article overnight.

But for a side who have surrendered 19 points from winning positions to go ahead, concede an equaliser, then go on to win last week had to be positive.

Everton, though, are going to be a tougher nut to crack than the prices imply.

The fact that they have nothing tangible, in terms of prizes, to play for is nonsense. They have had little to play for in weeks yet find themselves on a run of one defeat (by Manchester City) in their last seven.

Back-to-back wins without conceding against Newcastle and Huddersfield emphasise that they are belatedly improving under the unpopular Sam Allardyce and only five teams have had more home wins than the Toffees.

Saints fans live in a constant state of concern over the impact of their old boys and they’ll be worried by the recent improvement of Morgan Schneiderlin, who is back to his sharpest in a midfield which the visitors are unlikely to overrun.

And then, of course, there’s the threat carried by their academy graduate Theo Walcott.

Southampton could be in a strong position at kick-off if Stoke and Swansea flop earlier in the day but the message from Hughes is they need to win regardless. In a game that is expected to be tight, that looks tricky.

2pts 19-10 general

Premier League standings

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Team news
James McCarthy, Mason Holgate, Eliaquim Mangala, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are injured.

Steve Davis is the only absentee through injury. Sofiane Boufal has been kicked out of the first-team squad after a row with the manager.

Key stat
Everton are unbeaten in their past 12 home meetings against Southampton with nine wins and three draws.

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Everton are going to be a tougher nut to crack than the prices imply
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