The reality for many Saints supporters is that there isn’t a huge difference between a 9th, 10th and 11th place Premier League finish.

Southampton will avoid relegation this season and they won’t make Europe. The defeat to Manchester City saw the end of any cup aspirations. For some, that means the season is over. But not for Saints players and staff. Their eyes are firmly set on the one big goal they started with: finishing inside the top ten.

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It’s been five years since Saints last finished in the top half - under Claude Puel - coming closest in 2019/20 when they fell two points short. Five years is quickly becoming a while, something those at the club are acutely aware of.

Speaking after the 1-1 draw with Leeds on Saturday, captain James Ward-Prowse mentioned the ambition at the start and end of his conversation with the Daily Echo. 

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“It feels like a new chapter in the season for us, coming off the international break. Nine games before today to finish strong and reach that goal of finishing in the top ten,” he started with before concluding by speaking about his personal and team goals:

“Sitting down at the start of the season, I like to make targets and for a midfielder to get maybe ten goals a season is a good return, it’s a good contribution to the team. So of course, it would be nice to reach those targets and keep improving year on year. But I’d sacrifice that if it means we can break into the top ten and finish the season well.”

Daily Echo: Saints celebrate Ward-Prowse's free-kick at Leeds. Image by: PASaints celebrate Ward-Prowse's free-kick at Leeds. Image by: PA

Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl is equally committed to the top-ten ambition. Prior to the start of the season he made that clear saying:

“I think everybody knows that last season we had a time when we were a top 10 club in the league.

“The target is a reachable one. When you perform well, you can try to reach this target and this must be the goal for everybody.”

Since then nothing has changed and his actions have reflected the steadfast determination to get a top ten berth. 

In the draw at Elland Road, Hasenhuttl experimented slightly with a new formation that utilised Ibrahima Diallo on the left side of a midfield diamond. But with the game level at 1-1 late on, he chose to leave Adam Armstrong on the bench. It could have been a good time to get a struggling player some minutes at the end of a stabalised season. Instead, Hasenhuttl went for the experience of Shane Long.

It’s clear that Saints are going for it, really going for it. And they should. It’s absolutely vital that they get a top ten spot. So that they can move on.

Finding the right ambition in the Premier League isn’t the easiest thing. A few teams compete for the title, a whole bunch battle to stay up. And the rest? The rest have the difficult job balancing realism with dreams.

Daily Echo: Saints fans after the recent FA Cup defeat to Manchester City. Image by: PASaints fans after the recent FA Cup defeat to Manchester City. Image by: PA

A top ten finish for Saints would represent a realistic and hugely successful season. But the club has the foundations to think with dreams rather than realism. Now under seemingly stable and ambitious ownership with a manager that can propel this squad forward there are genuine foundations being built.

The team itself is starting to develop a core of supremely talented young players with room to grow. Mohamed Salisu is 22 and has already proven just how good he can be at his best. Kyle Walker-Peters and Tino Livramento are 24 and 19 respectively. Lyanco, Che Adams and Adam Armstrong are all 25. James Ward-Prowse - the experienced head in the middle of it all - is 27. 

Clearly the spot for talented youngsters from all across the football pyramid who see Saints as a place to develop their game and get first team minutes, Southampton have a chance to absolutely skyrocket in the coming years.

There is no limit to what they could achieve even if the financial landscape means they will always be starting a step (or a couple of steps) behind the richest clubs in the land. But if there is one club that could upset the odds and turn logic on its head, then Saints are definitely in contention for being that club.

But to have any chance of overcoming the oft insurmountable seeming odds and competing for something bigger - who knows what that really is - their ambitions must grow even further. And for that to happen, they need to complete the one at hand.

With eight games left to play, Saints find themselves one point adrift of the top half. The draw at Leeds curtailed the frustrating recent losing run and according to both Ward-Prowse and Hasenhuttl it should act as the springboard for the final push.

It is vital that Saints get over this hurdle and earn a top-ten finish. So that they can move on and go for even more.

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