SAINTS manager Ralph Hasenhuttl believes Stuart Armstrong is proving to be a bargain buy.

The Scottish international joined the St Mary’s from Celtic for just £7m back in 2018 when Mark Hughes was in charge.

He has found it difficult to get a run of games in the starting XI but is now a regular name in the team, with his most recent performance against Aston Villa culminating in a last-minute goal.

When questioned about Armstrong’s turnaround in form, Hasenhuttl said: “At the moment, £7m is cheap.

“When you want to take a player from a Premier League club you normally start at £20m which is strange and crazy.

“This is the reason why in the future it’s even more necessary to have an academy that serves you the players and this is our biggest goal for the future.

“Stuey didn’t have an easy season at the beginning because of the change with the back-five there wasn’t a lot of chances for him to play.

“It didn’t look good, but I always knew in a different shape that I would have more chances for him to play.

“In a 4-2-2-2 with two No10 positions, that chance was a bigger one. When we changed the shape, he was there at the right moment and showed up.

“From that moment on, he showed me he can be a No10 that is disciplined and is hard-working against the ball which is what I expect from him.

“It’s a very demanding position and you must be smart and disciplined for this position.”

A lot of Armstrong’s success down the wing has been due to the understanding he has with James Ward-Prowse.

This is boosted by the fact the duo are good friends away from St Mary’s, with the central midfielder also being one of the first to congratulate the ex-Celtic man after his goal against Villa.

And Hasenhuttl believes Armstrong is a better player when partnering Ward-Prowse.

“Especially when he is playing with Prowsey on the right, he did it well against Palace and well against Villa,” added the Austrian.

“The two of them are good friends and I think that also helps but he was also fantastic with Cedric on this side.

“That is one of the reasons why we have been better because he is very hard-working and is now scoring by coming more often in the position to score.

“This was a fantastic turnaround and he’s also something of a role model for our transformation.”

Before reaching the level he’s currently at, Armstrong had to take some of Hasenhuttl’s criticisms on board.

The Saints boss highlighted the 27-year-old’s initial inability to quickly switch from attack to defence.

This meant watching plenty of videos to gain an understanding of exactly what Hasenhuttl was demanding.

“He had to learn to be more brutal in the duels to win more balls and this is something that the switch after losing the ball was hard to get for him," explained Hasenhuttl.

“We worked a lot on this and showed him a lot of videos.

“At the beginning, it looked very critical but now he knows how important it is to double up in the wide areas, to come from the front, to close as a No10 and to be in the box.

“There are long recovery runs to do and this is something he had to learn but now he understands about playing in our philosophy.

“I always knew he could do it. The only thing was that he had to show me and now he is.”