The end of a season that has just gotten more painful by the week was given a cruel extension when the fourth official signalled for seven minutes of stoppage time at the King Power Stadium.

Of course, that was enough time for Saints' day to go from bad to just a little bit worse as Ayoze Perez notched his second to bring the curtain down on Saints’ 2021/22 campaign with a 4-1 defeat.

For some time attention had already turned to the summer but now it has the full focus of everyone associated with Southampton Football Club. The magnitude of the next ten weeks can not be understated.

Southampton didn’t just end the season poorly, they ended it as one of the worst sides in the Premier League. In fact, only Watford took less points than Saints’ five through the final 12 games of the season. Meanwhile, Norwich City were the only other team to accumulate less than ten points in the final 12 matches.

Southampton ended the season significantly worse than the likes of Burnley, Leeds and Everton who were battling for their survival right until the final week. A terrific ten-game run between mid-December and the end of February yielded Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side enough points to stave off relegation but it’s crucial not to judge this squad and this season on that brilliant stretch.

Daily Echo: Saints boss Hasenhuttl waves to fans at St Mary's. Image by: Stuart MartinSaints boss Hasenhuttl waves to fans at St Mary's. Image by: Stuart Martin

Doing so would send the wrong message and ignore the very real problems. Doing so could quite possibly end in the Championship this time next year.

It might sound harsh to some but this squad and coaching staff deserve to be judged on the lasting impression they've left, the impression from the disastrous final 12 games that saw them on par with Championship-bound Norwich and Watford.

Judging them on this basis leads to one seismic - and obvious - conclusion: there is major surgery needed this summer.

When asked how he will pick his team back up for the new season, Hasenhuttl pointed to the struggles Saints endured at the end of the 2020/21 campaign.

"We had the same situation last year and we lost our best players in the summer and everyone was saying when we come back, we would be relegated. You can see we were standing up and going again and we will again have the ability to fight and take the points we want to take."

While it’s a fair point - particularly that they did lose big players in the summer - the ending Hasenhuttl references is far less disastrous than the one he has overseen this time around. They lost seven of their final 12 games and won four of them, collecting 13 points a year ago compared to the five this time.

Daily Echo: Dragan Solak and the Saints ownership. Image by: Stuart MartinDragan Solak and the Saints ownership. Image by: Stuart Martin

Considering how mediocre that run was it should put into perspective the levels of this one. The magnitude of this collapse is quite remarkable and it would simply be irresponsible to judge Saints on the impressive run of form that preceded it.

In blunt terms, this Southampton squad is not good enough and they have gone out of their way to prove just that. Hard questions of course also need to be asked of the manager in charge but it appears the club have no interest in moving on from Hasenhuttl this summer which draws the focus back to the recruitment ahead.

With Fraser Forster out of contract and headed for the exit, Southampton are pursuing a new goalkeeper while it’s clear that Alex McCarthty is not the answer. Saints can’t afford to go into the new season with him as their starting goalkeeper.

While McCarthy has looked suitably shaky in his two appearances since returning from injury, the defence in front of him has hardly inspired confidence. With Tino Livramento and Romain Perraud sidelined through injury, Hasenhuttl opted to go with Mohamed Salisu at left-back with Jack Stephens and Lyanco in the middle of the back four.

It did not work.

Salisu looked lost and uncomfortable in the position he’d never played before while Stephens and Lyanco actually had a good first half before the latter gifted Leicester their first goal. From that point, they collapsed.

Only three teams conceded more than Southampton’s 67 goals this season and with Forster on his way out, the porous defence already looks worse. To say there’s some work needed would be a gross understatement.

Kyle Walker-Peters has shown enough to be heavily involved in whatever Saints rebuild shows up next season while Salisu should still have a major role despite his cratered form. But a new centre-back partner for him is positively mandatory. All of Hasenhuttl’s current options have been afforded chances and none are good enough to be the long-term partner to Salisu.

Bednarek failed to start at Leicester and if he gets close to his 31 Premier League appearances amassed this term next season then something is seriously wrong. 

In midfield, James Ward-Prowse continued his stand-out campaign with his 10th goal of the season and Southampton must do everything possible to build around him.

Alongside the captain, Oriol Romeu has turned in another reliable season but with just one year left on his deal it’s fair to wonder if Saints need an upgrade or at least another dependable option. Perhaps Ibrahima Diallo can get there but two seasons into his Saints career and he isn’t close to the player this team needs. He can not be relied upon at this time.

Daily Echo: Ward-Prowse has been a rare shining light this season. Image by: Stuart MartinWard-Prowse has been a rare shining light this season. Image by: Stuart Martin

In attack Southampton need almost as much work as at the back. They managed just nine goals in their final 12 games. Of those dozen just three came from open play as Hasenhuttl’s side found Ward-Prowse set-pieces the only real source of attacking inspiration.

Outside of Ward-Prowse’s ten goals, Che Adams and Armando Broja are next on the list of Saints’ top scorers this season with seven and six respectively. Neither has scored since February and those totals are not nearly enough regardless of when the goals arrived. Behind them sits Bednarek and Mohamed Elyounoussi each on four goals and the rest of the list is minor contributions from a range of players.

As we discussed recently, a major part of the problem is actually putting the ball in the back of the net when opportunities present themselves. But it’s certainly not helped by Southampton’s struggles to actually create meaningful chances.

Nathan Redmond and Ward-Prowse lead Saints in assists with five each while Adams sits third on three. 

The other supposed creative players in this team - Stuart Armstrong, Elyounoussi, Nathan Tella, Moussa Djenepo, and Theo Walcott - combined for 90 Premier League appearances and just three assists. 

Saints don’t create enough chances and they don’t take the chances they do create. Both areas desperately need to be addressed this summer. Being a willing runner and hard-worker is not enough. This team has been sapped of magic and without an injection of something special they won’t be able to get out of jail enough times to survive next season.

The Premier League is only getting harder by the day as clubs from top to bottom spend ambitiously. Sport Republic arrived on the South Coast with the plan to keep building in a stable manner but the task now looks far bigger than when they arrived. Minor adjustments can not be the agenda when this team is crying out for a major overhaul.

At minimum a new goalkeeper, centre-back, attacking midfielder and striker is needed and in all honesty, more than one player is required at more than one of those positions.

But crucially, Southampton can’t afford to just fill the spots. They need to bring in game-changers who can carry this side forward. 

If the first goal decided the outcome of their games, Southampton would have actually finished this season in 10th place on 57 points. But week after week they collapsed and that destructive streak means a new spine needs to be constructed.

How many of these players can truly be counted on when the going gets tough? Well, we have an answer to that. When the going got tougher and tougher this season, virtually none of them stood up.

This is how they should be judged. On the disastrous collapse rather than the position of strength that led to the collapse. To ignore the results of the last three months would not only be misguided but also dangerous. There’s no reason to believe this team is good enough for survival next season let alone a top-ten finish.

It’s time to get to work. A lot of it is needed.

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