WHAT a finish to 2019 it has been for the Saints.

Seven points from three games over the Christmas period is more than anyone could realistically have expected, writes Simon Walter.

Since rebooting their approach after the international break with a return to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s preferred counter-press and a settled 4-2-2-2 formation, Saints have taken 14 points from eight matches.

It is their best finish to a calendar year since 2010, the season they were promoted from League One, and has brought back the feelgood factor to St Mary’s at the end of a decade that will be remembered as one of the best in the club’s history.

With optimism renewed, Saints have much to look forward to as they enter 2020, largely thanks to the brilliance of Danny Ings. We are running out of superlatives to describe the Saints’ talisman and his current run of form.

With eight goals from eight starts and 12 at the halfway point, who is to say he cannot become the first Saints player since Matt Le Tissier to score 25 goals in a Premier League season?

Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez top-scored with 15 apiece in 2013 and 2014 respectively, Saints’ first two seasons back in the top flight. But on current form Ings will surpass that before January is out.

With Moussa Djenepo’s electrifying cameo highlighting the options at Hasenhuttl’s disposal on the flanks and James Ward-Prowse maturing into a midfielder of high quality, Saints are suddenly looking like a team with realistic top-ten aspirations.

Clearly, the key is to keep Ings fit. But Ralph Hasenhuttl has managed his workload to perfection over the Christmas period and the 27 year-old has done everything he can to ensure his body can cope with the demands of a full Premier League season.

As well as showing exactly why Roy Hodgson describe him as a ‘natural goalscorer’ in the build-up to Crystal Palace’s visit, Ings’ awareness and weight of passing again stood out on Saturday.

Like Harry Kane, he is almost two players in one; the perfect link man as well as a ruthless finisher.

But who would have thought he would have more Premier League goals for the season than Kane ahead of Tottenham’s visit on New Year’s Day?