Southampton have parted ways with manager Nathan Jones after just three months and 14 games in charge. The former Luton Town manager departs St Mary’s Stadium with the club rock bottom of the Premier League and four points adrift of safety.
In many ways this is a thoroughly modern sacking. We have grown accustomed to teams throwing head coaches at the wall until one sticks, particularly as relegation looms. Watford are usually the punchline when revolving door management is cited. The Hornets went through three permanent bosses in the Premier League last season. After they were relegated, they started this campaign with new hire Rob Edwards and look set to finish it with incumbent Slaven Bilic.
Jones’ sacking marks the second time this season that Southampton have ditched the man at the helm. But unlike Watford, it is not something the south coast side makes a habit of. Previous head coach Ralph Hasenhuttl enjoyed a four-year spell in the role. He was allowed to survive a pair of 9-0 defeats, to Leicester City and Manchester United. Few clubs would have resisted the urge to react. But overall the Austrian’s spell was a success, until the magic ran out this season.
So why the sudden change in how Saints operate? Why have owners Sport Republic gone from allowing managers time to a cut-and-run scenario? For a start, Hasenhuttl largely retained support from the fanbase during the tough times. Southampton loyalists bought into what he was doing, even if the odd chastening defeat blurred the picture. Jones had fostered no such loyalty and as a first-time Premier League manager, he had not demonstrated to supporters that he could do what was required.
If his track record didn’t inspire confidence, Jones’ results did little to bridge that gap either. Five wins and nine losses doesn’t tell the full story, but it comes pretty close. A run to the semi-finals of the EFL Cup was encouraging, with Saints at least making a game of it over two legs against the riches of Newcastle United.
But their league form has been unforgivable. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a run of three consecutive league defeats. This slump was capped off on Saturday with a loss to ten-man Wolverhampton Wanderers. Results like this can be tolerated early in a managerial tenure if the style of football is appealing. But Jones’ tactics have been poorly received by supporters, with audible chants of discontent over the playing style in recent weeks.
Jones might have held on longer if he projected the personality of someone who could arrest the slide. But the fact his name was trending alongside “David Brent” this week on Twitter suggests his authority had already been punctured. A bizarre press conference answer that described how he had turned his back on a life of “Welsh women” to steer Southampton success was perhaps the final nail in a coffin that was starting to resemble the spiky bonce of Hellraiser antagonist Pinhead.
First team coach Ruben Selles now takes charge on a caretaker basis. It will be fascinating to see which direction Southampton go in for a permanent appointment. Also of interest will be the tenure a new man is afforded. Jones’ dismissal suggests that the days of smiling through gritted teeth through failings, as happened occasionally under Hasenhuttl, are over. Perhaps this is the turning point where Southampton become a ruthless, Watford-like regime. Or maybe, Jones was just the wrong man at the wrong time. We will have to wait and see what Southampton’s next manager brings before judging the club’s approach.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change