RALPH Hasenhuttl has applauded Pierre-Emile Højbjerg for leading from the front during Saints’ recent improvement.

The club’s captain produced his best performance of the season in last week’s 2-1 win against Norwich City and was also at the heart of what Hasenhuttl described as Saints’ best away performance of the season at Newcastle United on Sunday.

Hasenhuttl has been pleased to see Højbjerg show his leadership qualities through his actions and performances on the pitch and wants more of the same from the midfielder against West Ham United at St Mary’s this weekend.

The Saints boss said: “I think the role of the captain is sometimes discussed as a player who has to speak to the other guys in the dressing room or outside on the pitch.

“I’m not a fan of this behaviour because the best thing you can do as a captain is to show on the pitch that you step forward, show up and invest massively by winning balls, working for the team and being positive to every player.

“This is a behaviour that is more important than telling them what they have to do because they get told from me and the other staff.

“He shows he is a leading player by giving the perfect performance, and this is an important thing.”

Højbjerg’s burgeoning midfield partnership with James Ward-Prowse has encouraged Hasenhuttl with the former’s all-round, combative qualities dovetailing well with the latter’s dead-ball expertise.

The Danish international won the ball no fewer than 18 times against Norwich, while Ward-Prowse has also impressed Hasenhuttl with the maturing of his decision-making, offensive and defensively.

It was a performance and a result that he hopes will be replicated when they come up against the likes of Declan Rice and Mark Noble in what is another another huge six-pointer at St Mary’s on Saturday evening.

“I spoke after the [Norwich] game with him [Højbjerg] and said it was by far the best from him so far this season,” revealed Hasenhuttl.

“We have hard work in the centre with him and Prowsey, we have two very dynamic players, covering a lot of distance and he was a crucial part of our game because the ball wins there are very important for us.

“When he wins the ball, he made good decisions not to be in too much possession and trying to speed up the game. He did this much better than he did in the games before. It was an important step forward for him.”