‘Just make sure you don’t give anything away in the first 20 minutes.’

You can easily imagine they might have been Mark Hughes’ parting words to his Saints side as they left the changing room to take on the might of Manchester City.

He would have known, as would the team, that they were in for a hard afternoon regardless, but that if you let City get away in the early stages then the result is a foregone conclusion.

So it’s fair to say that being 3-0 down after just 18 minutes was about as bad a start as it could have been for Saints who just seemed frozen.

There were moments of encouragement for Saints after that time.

They finally scored a goal, albeit from the penalty spot, to break their barren run.

They also created chances against City, though more predictably given recent times they went unconverted.

But they are just scraps of consolations, because City had already won the game and gone into cruise control by then, and besides they still shipped more goals.

In isolation getting well beaten at the Etihad Stadium is nothing to be desperately ashamed of, even if going down so heavily isn’t ideal for a team short in confidence and buoyed recently by good defensive displays and clean sheets.

What might be more worrying is the company Saints are keeping in that respect with City’s other five goal winning margins having come against Burnley, Huddersfield and Cardiff, the latter two being in the bottom three of the Premier League, while the likes of Fulham and Newcastle got off more lightly.

If you feel you are in somewhat of a no-win situation against City, then that is not the case for the next two games for Saints which have taken on great significance.

Having missed the chance to beat Newcastle and ease the pressure, they now face Watford and Fulham either side of the next international break.

Those matches are the nearest you get to being softer opposition in the Premier League given Saints’ upcoming fixtures.

Watford have been decent, but they were just beaten at Newcastle, and simply have to be dispatched at St Mary’s for the sake of points, confidence and ending the long wait for a home win.

Fulham won’t be easy on their own turf, but they are a team around the bottom like Saints and you cannot afford to get beaten in these games to avoid getting sucked into the bottom three.

It’s hard to shrug off a hammering like 6-1, but Saints have to try and do just that.

They need to emphasise the positives, inflate them if they want, and convince themselves it’s just the way it goes against City because they need some belief right now.