A season that promised so much heading into March, wilted into relative nothingness over the course of three increasingly disheartening months.

By the end of it - following a rather merciless final thumping at Leicester City - many fans were left with feelings of frustration and uncertainty as well as countless questions.

The good (and in fairness, it's a big one): Premier League survival was achieved and Saints will play their 11th consecutive season of top flight football. Highlights included away victories at Tottenham and West Ham as well as unbeaten runs against both Manchester clubs.

But far too often the same issues of defensive lapses and in-game collapses saw Ralph Hasenhutl’s side punished. There was no 9-0 to speak of this time around - thankfully - but the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea did little to make Saints feel much better about that.

Finishing three points behind last season’s total of 43 could be seen as a triumph after losing Danny Ings in the summer but many will find that hard to accept considering the position of strength Southampton found themselves in just a few months ago.

Daily Echo: Saints players prepare for a match at St Mary's. Image by: Stuart MartinSaints players prepare for a match at St Mary's. Image by: Stuart Martin

Heading into a huge summer - the first under Sport Republic’s ownership - there are countless outstanding questions that only time and action will answer. The new owners have already laid down their authority with the triple-sacking of coaches Kelvin Davis, Dave Watson and Carl Flemming but with the playing squad needing a revamp much more work is needed. 

Ahead of what could be one of the biggest summers in the club’s recent history, the Daily Echo asked fans for their thoughts and more than 1,700 Saints responded. This is of course, just a reflection of a portion of the fanbase and not every Saints supporter. Without further adieu, let’s get into it…

Question 1: How would you rate Southampton’s 2021/22 season?

The ultimate goal this season was accomplished: Saints ensured their Premier League status for another year. But was that enough for fans?

If 5/10 is average, then the majority of supporters rated this season as just below average with 26.5% voting 4/10 and 24.4% saying 3/10. 20% felt that it was an adequate campaign at 5/10.

12% of respondents felt this season was above average - six or higher - while 67.5% felt that the season was below average - four or lower.

This obviously doesn’t make great reading for Hasenhuttl, the players and the club’s hierarchy and the dissatisfaction was mirrored by those in charge with the recent coaching shake-up.

Question 2: Do you believe manager Ralph Hasenhuttl should remain in charge for the 2022/23 season?

Speaking of Hasenhuttl, it’s no secret that his future has been the topic of conversation amongst Saints fans in recent weeks. At Brentford in early May, a large portion of the away crowd turned on their manager but he was then applauded by those who stuck around for the ‘lap of appreciation following the final home game of the season.

Still in charge for now, pressure is certainly on the Austrian after three members of his coaching staff were let go and fans remain split on his future.

Made up of three categories, 26% of those who took the survey are undecided about whether Hasenhuttl should be in charge for the 2022/23 season while 32% believe he should. But the largest portion - 42% - believe a change is necessary and that time is up for Hasenhuttl.

Regardless though, it appears the manager will still be at the helm in August when the new season starts. An inquiry into what went wrong this season levied much of the blame n the three coaches who departed and as such it appears Hasenhuttl has escaped with another chance.

In the ever-changing world of football, his long-term future will of course still be questioned especially if Saints don’t get off to a quick start next season but the expectation is that he will be on the touchline when Southampton kick-off their 2022/23 campaign.

3. How many positions of the first team XI do you believe Southampton need to upgrade this summer? (Click all that apply)

Saints are expected to be busy this summer with one source telling the Daily Echo that they believe Southampton are targeting players in “pretty much every position.” Some needs are more glaring than others but Southampton fans believe there is a lot of work to be done this summer.

With Fraser Forster’s departure set to be confirmed shortly and Harry Lewis’ exit, Saints have just one goalkeeper - Alex McCarthy - and a whopping 92% of fans believe it’s a position that needs upgrading. Fortunately, Saints are on the look-out for a new shot-stopper to challenge McCarthy.

Interestingly, goalkeeper isn't the number one position of needs according to the fans who took part in the survey with 95% of respondents believing striker needs to be upgraded. James Ward-Prowse led his side in goals with ten while the four strikers combined for just 16. 

Southampton remain interested in bringing Armando Broja back to St Mary’s but it is entirely possible that both he and Shane Long have played their last Saints games making the need for reinforcements up front that much more obvious.

At the other end of the pitch, Southampton shipped 67 goals and kept just eight clean sheets all season. Time and time again, Hasenhuttl acknowledged that it wasn’t a good enough baseline for his side to compete from and there is no doubt that central defence is a position the club are hoping to improve.

The futures of both Jan Bednarek and Jack Stephens are far from assured while the club is working through a shortlist of targets believed to include Levi Colwill and Ronnie Edwards. 90% of fans believe centre-back needs upgrading - third in the voting list of priorities behind goalkeeper and striker.

77% of supporters who took part feel that Saints’ need to upgrade their attacking wingers/number tens - hardly a surprise considering that those in the squad at the moment combined for just seven goals and eight assists.

The final two positions assessed - central midfield and full-back - received considerably less votes than the others. 56% of respondents feel the centre of the park needs work with Ibrahima Diallo yet to impress after two seasons at the club while just 30% of Saints fans feel the full-backs need improving, a number that would surely be lower had Tino Livramento not suffered a serious knee injury at Brighton in April.

There’s a lot of work to do this summer. Fans know that. The club knows that. Now it’s time to see that in action.

4. Do you trust the club’s hierarchy to successfully recruit to the aims you've specified above?

This question comes with the considerable caveat of the unknown. Having taken over at the start of January, Sport Republic have overseen just one transfer window - the quiet winter month in which a pair of B team acquisitions were made.

Now the task is much larger and the hierarchy appear to know that. But proof is needed rather than words. 67% of respondents answered that they don’t believe the club’s hierarchy will recruit to the aims they specified and that firmly puts the ball in the court of Dragan Solak and Sport Republic. It’s time for them to prove to fans that they can help bring the club to the next level - whatever that is.

5. What do you see as a realistic ambition for next season?

Expectation is an interesting element of football. At the start of the season, the hope was that Southampton would just stay in the Premier League after selling Danny Ings. But by the spring, expectation had changed and the ambition became a first top-ten finish under Hasenhuttl. They didn’t get there - they weren’t even that close in the end - but the ambition was felt by all.

Heading into the summer ahead of the 2022/23 season, ambition is split amongst the fanbase. One quarter - 25% - feel the same target of a top-ten finish is a realistic ambition for the club to aim for. However, 34% feel that survival is likely the best they can shoot for while 30% see a repeat of this season’s finish - lower mid-table - as the realistic aim.

Unsurprisingly just 1% of respondents believe Europa League qualification is a realistic ambition. Crazier things have happened, right?

6. Do you trust the club’s hierarchy, management and players to successfully achieve the above target?

Trust is earnt not blindly given, something that’s heightened in football. After another collapse, fans are understanebly skeptical of the players, management and hierarchy to achieve the target of a top-ten finish. Make no mistake, that skepticism is deserved.

As with question four, more than 60% of respondents (64%) don’t trust those involved to achieve what they’ve chosen as a realistic ambition for next seaon. Low expectations are not the worst thing and it’s up to the club and the new ownership to build up trust through action.

7. What position in the table do you believe Saints will actually finish in next season?

Just 5% of those who took part in the survey actually believe Saints will finish in the top half next season, an understandable pessimism but something that could absolutely change by the time the transfer window slams shut.

The vast majority of Saints fans believe that the club will end the season on similar footing to this one with 42% of those surveyed answering that they believe Southampton will just avoid relegation. 26% believe they won’t be that fortunate and will go down to the second tier for the first time since 2012 while a further 26% think they will end in lower midtable. 

8. How would you rate the club’s communication with fans?

The age of transparency in football is gone with clubs preferring to keep much of their communication in-house. 43% of respondents rated Southampton's communication as ‘Not great, not terrible’ while a further 28% believe the communication is ‘appropriate for a football club in this day and age.’ 

11% feel fans should be more heavily involved in dialoague surrounding the club while 13% feel the lack of direct communication is a major problem. Just 4% of respondents described the club’s communication with fans as ‘excellent’ showing that there could be some work to do there.

Despite preferring to remain in the background, Dragan Solak has taken a more present approach than Gao Jisheng, frequently appearing at games while speaking at the club’s end of season awards dinner. It’s certainly a step in the right direction.

9. How does your personal connection to the club feel compared to past years?

Perhaps the most subjective of the ten questions asked, everyone will have a different way to assess their own personal connection to the club but it’s something that is crucial to try and understand and keep track of. Naturally, winning helps the positive feeling and this question would have probably received a different response in February.

Still, the answers should not be ignored.

41% of respondents feel their connection to the club is the same as previous years while 49% feel it’s weaker than before with 15% of those people feeling it’s weaker than ever.

A total of 10% felt their connection is stronger than before with 4% answering stronger than ever. While not ideal there’s no need necessarily to push the panic button based on these results but it does bring up a wider conversation and something that the club should take note of.

10. Which of the following best describes how you feel about the medium (this summer and next season) and long term future (past next season) of Southampton FC?

Another question that could change quite drastically depending on how the first summer under Sport Republic goes, a clear majority of 51% answered that they feel ‘nervous’ about the club’s medium and long-term future. With new beginning under new ownership, that uncertainty is completely understandable.

22% answered ‘meh’ a further reflection of the growing disconnect some fans are feeling - not nearly all - but some. 11% went for apathetic giving more weight to this while a total of 15% opted for either ‘optmistic’ or ‘excited’ (10% the former and 5% the latter).

This is one question that the ownership should be determined to change the answers to with a good transfer window. It’s certainly possible that renewed excitement could be there come August but it clearly won’t without significant changes.

11. If you have anything else you'd like to share about your Saints experience at this time please do so below:

Despite the previous questions displaying a potentially strained relationship between the club and section of the fanbase, the passion is clearly still there in the extreme. That much was evident as Saints fans continued to pack the away stands each and every week in spite of the worsening results and that much was clear in the responses to this final open-ended question.

More than a third of those who took part chose to add to their answers with extra thoughts ranging from singular sentences to full multi-paragraph essays. Sadly not all of them can be included but all of them have been read with a collection included below:

"Ralph has earned the right to be backed in the transfer market as the shackles from the previous owner will be removed for the summer window - however attracting quality players may be difficult with our form. Ralph now has a chance to recruit the players he wants and from here he will be heavily scrutinised. Result have to improve or he’ll be gone before the end of 2022."

"No reason we can’t be competing for top ten finish. Believe in Ralph but need to actually invest in the team and spend the same fees as other clubs in our position. Continuing to do things on a budget will get us relegated."

"May be unpopular but I think looking at our squad 15th is a completely fair reflection of the level of quality. Would even argue Leeds and Everton have better personnel than us. This is why my faith in Ralph is still there, because he has shown that with an awful squad he can get big results and performances (Spurs, City etc). Can’t underestimate how big the summer is though, complete out with the old in with the new needed. Only players Imo that are genuinely of the quality that we want to be are Jwp, Kwp, the fullbacks, Sali, Che, Stu, Romeu. P.s give Olaigbe a go, he can’t be worse than our other forwards, especially if theres 5 subs next year!"

"We need to be realistic that without a billionaire owner we will continue to slide, as more and more clubs will become richer and be able to recruit better than we can. I’d much rather have a modest family club that isn’t as successful than be owned by City or Newcastle owners - I’d hope that is a similar opinion amongst the proper saints fans."

"Uncertain would have been a better answer than nervous to question 10. And that's because this will be the first summer transfer of the new ownership - who knows what will happen? For that season, my lack of trust in the earlier questions doesn't mean that there is distrust - just that I don't yet have anything to go on, to have built such trust yet."

"I welcomed the clubs culture about trying to encourage younger players with talent to join and develop them however the reality is we ALSO need experienced, proven PL players; and especially goal scorers and solid consistent defenders. A good mix is needed and that cannot be achieved on the cheap. We need to match other clubs’ player investment otherwise we WILL eventually drop to championship league - or lower!! We have only escaped by the skin of our teeth this season. The club deserves better!"

"We cannot continue to sell our best. As the new owners have stated we don’t need to! We need money put into the club like every one else does we cannot continue on a shoestring budget if we want to progress! We aren’t finding gems anymore and our youth isn’t pulling through what it used to."

"​​I don’t think it’s ever been this bad, preferred it in league one with docked points as at least I knew we’d do well with the squad at the time, we need a new manager and at least 6 players to stay up.. we haven’t even got a keeper!"

"Like most fans I'm fed up of the same old rubbish we are seeing every season. I don't mind Ralph getting this window to prove himself but if we don't sign 4/5 quality players we are doomed. We also need to sell 5/6 which will be a major challenge in itself. With the players coming in, they need to make an impact right away or it could be a long season. With the new owners at the helm, we hope they put some money in for the transfers that are required but I won't be surprised if JWP is sold for 60m and we use that money to invest in new players."

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