It’s crunch time for Saints.

Having failed to win any of three games they might have done, they now have to produce some results that many wouldn’t expect.

There seemed to be such a sense of momentum and optimism as Saints headed into a run of fixtures against relegation rivals.

But a fairly severe stumble meant they took just two points from home games against Crystal Palace and Cardiff and a trip to Burnley.

It means that far from the remainder of this season being a stroll towards the finish line with an eye to next year, Saints are well and truly embroiled in the heat of the relegation battle once again.

The table is tight, but with 12 games to play they are in the bottom three, and that is a very uncomfortable position to be in.

With matches that really needed to be won having slipped by, Saints face a crucial set of fixtures.

In this strangest of seasons, they have four games in less than a fortnight after two weeks without a fixture and before three weeks out of action.

These games look harder than the ones just passed, with the obvious exception of Fulham at home.

Before that comes a trip to Arsenal, and afterwards Manchester United at Old Trafford and Tottenham at St Mary’s.

It is a daunting set of fixtures, but Saints simply must do more than expected.

They cannot afford to go into a three-week break, which frankly looks like just the kind of disruption they could do without, in a much worse position than they start it.

If they could limit the damage to coming out on the other side pretty much where they are now then they stand a good chance of staying up, because the run-in of eight games can salvage them.

However, if this block of results were to go badly and they were to drift, emerging after Tottenham more than a win from getting out of the bottom three, then it will be extremely hard for them to stay up.

There is cause for some cautious optimism.

Under Ralph Hasenhuttl, Saints have looked better equipped to deal with teams that come on to them than teams that sit back.

You can reasonably expect all four of their upcoming opponents to want to have a go – something Saints will have been working on over the past fortnight.

Arsenal look vulnerable and come into Sunday’s match on the back of a Thursday night Europa League game.

Saints have already beaten the Gunners under Hassenhuttl – one of just five league wins all season – and so know they can win against Unai Emery’s team.

Arsenal will likely dominate possession and put Saints under pressure but are not of killer quality and can be exposed defensively on the counter attack.

Fulham are unlikely to have the defensive discipline and quality to park the bus at St Mary’s and will likely rely on their attacking power to try and outscore Saints.

A Manchester United side who are in good form are not going to sit back against Saints, while Tottenham also have the attacking prowess to be confident in their ability to take the game to the opposition.

Saints have proved they can sit back and soak up pressure and still score goals in those sort of games under Hasenhuttl. Their counter attacking cause will only be aided by the return of the pacy Michael Obafemi.

Of course, the one downside to this theory is the quality in the final third of at least three of their upcoming opponents, and that Saints still need to cut out the individual errors that have cost them.

But, frankly, Saints are not in a position to be too philosophical about who they are playing now. They have boxed themselves into a position where they need points.

They cannot rely on another team collapsing to save them as Swansea did last year. They might have to really earn survival this time out.

Hasenhuttl’s team has shown plenty of promise, but now is the time to prove their mettle. They can’t wait any longer.