Daily Echo:

IT was, as far as managerial sackings go at Saints, fairly unique.

On the one hand, the axing of Claude Puel was harsh. Many neutrals, looking in at events at St Mary’s from the outside, would no doubt agree. After all, this is Southampton FC we are talking about. Eighth place wasn’t bad - how much higher do you think you can realistically go?

On the other, though, it felt right. It felt like a parting of the ways which had to be made.

You only had to be at St Mary’s for the final few games of last season to see first hand that something was not quite right.

Make no mistake, however - this is a mighty big call from the powers-that-be at Saints.

They have just sacked a manager who has finished eighth. In the club’s previous 39 top flight seasons, only three managers - Ted Bates, Lawrie McMenemy and Ronald Koeman - have finished higher.

Given all circumstances, that is probably the best the club could have hoped for in 2016/17.

Best of the rest, if you take away the elite.

At the start of every season, most sensible Saints fans would say they expect their club to finish behind Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool.

And last season Everton, under Koeman, were a big improvement. The Toffees have fresh momentum, and cash - witness the £30m bid for a goalkeeper this week.

Therefore, to finish eighth - as Puel did - was hardly a failure.

Yet we all know there was more to it than that.

Points wise, Saints were nearer the drop than they were Everton, who finished immediately above them. They were only six points clear of fourth bottom Watford.

Sacking Puel is an admission by Les Reed and the rest of the Saints board that they messed up when appointing Koeman’s successor.

And no one likes to admit they are ever wrong.

But Puel finished eighth in what is generally believed to be the toughest league on planet earth. It can’t have been a ‘wrong’ appointment.

Can it?

Ok, Saints’ record against the top teams was poor under Puel. Ok, some team selections were strange.

And, ok, some of the football served up at times – especially at St Mary’s – was not hugely entertaining.

Some fans will tell you they don’t go to Saints to see hugely entertaining games. They go to hopefully see Saints win.

Under Puel, they didn’t see many of either – just six home wins in 18 league games and some dull encounters, a 0-0 draw with Hull the absolute nadir.

In support of Puel, you could say he finished in the same place - eighth - as a team containing Lambert, Lallana, Schneiderlin, Clyne, Shaw, Wanyama, Fonte and Lovren did in 2013/14.

But Poch’s side totalled 56 points which is 10 more than Puel bagged. And they were far more entertaining to watch, and they scored more goals.

The pressure is now on Reed and co to make a swift appointment, and the identity of Puel’s successor will make absorbing reading.

Saints cannot really appoint a ‘like for like’, someone with a decent record on the continent - lest we forget, Puel had taken Lyon to the Champions League semi finals, he was hardly a novice - and a good record for nurturing young talent.

No, they can’t appoint a Puel clone.

They need to bring in someone with gravitas, someone with a proven record and someone who is a fairly big name.

How many of those managers are out there? And how many are out of work, bearing in mind Saints probably don’t want to pay compensation - having just shelled out a lot to pay up Puel’s contract.

Puel was not a big name, in the eyes of some Saints fans. He was seen, fairly or unfairly, as a cheap option, a ‘yes man’ all to eager to give game time to youngsters Koeman had ignored and who the club’s hierarchy were desperate to see progress.

Saints fans need to remember this - their club might not finish as high as eighth next season.

Last season’s top seven will again be strong, while Newcastle are expected to splash some cash. Even Cherries, who could soon sign Jermaine Defoe - the proven striker Saints desperately lacked under Puel - could threaten Saints’ status as south coast top dogs.

Remember, Cherries finished level on points with Saints last season. That close.

That is why Saints need a Koeman-type appointment, someone who will command respect because of their achievements and standing in the game. Someone who can offer hope and optimism.

Claude Puel never offered that, and he possibly never received that respect from some members of his squad, but he had to earn it in the first place.

You can’t expect to earn it by leaving your skipper (Jose Fonte) out of all the Europa League ties, and by ‘resting’ players who have just scored - Shane Long and Jordy Clasie two examples of that demotivational form of management from 2016/17.

I have some sympathy with Puel. He took on a club where some fans’ expectations almost certainly outstrip the realistic possibilities.

He didn’t create those expectations. Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, to name but three, did that.

Puel was unlucky in that he was the chosen one to try and manage those expectations.

In that, he flopped.

The sympathy begins to end when you look back at Saints’ poor Europa League campaign.

That they failed to qualify for the knock-out stages was primarily down to some baffling team selections.

Puel then talked up his ambitions of trying to take Saints back into Europe in 2017/18!

If he hadn’t been busy furiously tinkering, his first Euro adventure with the club would almost certainly have lasted longer.

As it turned out, it was his only Euro adventure with Saints, and that is his own fault.

History will not fully judge Claude Puel today, tomorrow, or in the weeks and months ahead.

Only in a few years time will we be able to look back and decide whether his eighth-place finish and Wembley cup final lived on in the memories, beyond the lack of entertaining football and a paucity of goals on too many occasions.

If Saints finish lower than eighth next season, and don’t get to a cup final, what then? Will Puel’s replacement be considered a failure too? Will fans be voting for him to be sacked as well?

Or will the 16th man to manage Saints in 19 Premier League seasons possess the charisma - and some more attack-minded tactics - to offset that?

Over to you, Les Reed. The next instalment of the soap opera which is perennially the Saints managerial situation promises to be as fascinating as all the (many) others have been ...