Claude Puel must have had at least one moment last night where he wondered whether this was all worth it.
A home draw against Manchester United lifted his side clear into eighth place in the Premier League and made them clear favourites to secure that position come the final whistle on Sunday. He has also guided Saints to the EFL Cup final in his first season.
And yet he was booed when making a second half substitution and one of the biggest cheers of the evening from the Saints fans came when their ailing manager was hit by a flying ball while stood in his technical area.
With chairman Ralph Krueger’s comments the previous day, where he said Puel’s future would be discussed in a regular end of season review, rather than publicly backing a manager less than a year into a three-year deal, it added even more question marks over his tenure at Saints.
Indeed, it was interpreted by many as a clear hint that Puel’s stay at Saints will be limited to just one season and another new manager will be trying his hand next season.
Puel will no doubt feel that when it comes to the final equation – eighth and the EFL Cup final given the injuries to his two best players and the strength of the squad – there was no more he could do.
But again last night events conspired against him at Saints, and there were more missed chances to add to the growing pile. But, quite simply, more than six hours without a goal at home is not good enough.
How frustrating, yet again, for him that the goals came away at Boro and not against United to win over wavering fans, and maybe board members too.
When we talk about things conspiring, Puel might also wonder if this is just destined not to happen for him.
There wouldn’t be more contentment with performances, but had Saints converted two of their recent penalties – at home to Hull and United – and those matches both been wins then there may be significantly less pressure right now.
But when things aren’t going your way, when it seems the writing is on the wall, it feels almost inevitable.
That Saints have now missed their last three penalties, in the space of just five games, sums it all up.
A home draw with United is not a bad result, but four games without a goal is less than expected, or needed for Puel.
And for the players it is becoming harder.
Even in the early stages of last night’s match there were groans of frustration even when a simple and routine pass went backwards.
Alright, this is not a dynamic Saints side under Puel, and it can be annoying not to see them counter attack with more purpose or press higher up the pitch.
But keeping possession in regulation circumstances is better than giving the ball away, but when the tide has turned against you, as it seems it has at St Mary’s, it is hard to turn around.
Despite some of the moans, it was a frantic start to the game, with Saints playing well.
They should have taken the lead after just five minutes as referee Mike Dean incorrectly adjudged that Eric Bailly’s bizarre handball in attempting to bring down a high diagonal pass from Cedric Soares under no pressure whatsoever was inside the box.
This time it was Sergio Romero who made the save down to his right. It was a poor penalty in truth, Gabbiadini’s stuttering run-up making it pretty clear which way he was going, and giving the United keeper time to get there given it wasn’t all that well directed.
Bailly was in the action again moments later, this time on the counter attack after intercepting Nathan Redmond’s misplaced pass, but his shot from outside the area was solidly saved by Fraser Forster.
Anthony Martial threatened but fired wide before Forster was in action again to save away to his right from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s low shot from distance.
The lively pace was unlikely to be sustained and sure enough the game went a little flat.
Saints had the last say of the goalless first half as Redmond’s deflected shot was fielded by Romero.
They had a real crack at the beginning of the second period as they came flying out at United, challenging Romero to make a hat-trick of saves in the space of seven minutes.
On 52 minutes he pushed away a driven effort from Tadic after a crafty free kick lay-off by James Ward-Prowse. There was an even better stop four minutes later as Redmond played the ball to Oriol Romeu to side foot first time, but the keeper was away to his right to turn wide.
Ward-Prowse tested him to the other side with a measured right footed effort but again the United keeper was equal to it.
United had a chance of their own on 66 minutes as Forster managed to hold up Rooney inside the area. However, he found Juan Mata who missed the target when he could have scored from just inside the box.
They came even closer five minutes later as Anthony Martial ran at the Saints defence and opened his body for a shot that struck the post.
Jay Rodriguez added some extra spark as sub and his shot on the turn from just inside the area fizzed narrowly wide of the far post, but it wasn’t to be for Saints or Puel.
A bruise from the ball would just about be the final insult.