LONDON (Reuters) - When Mauricio Pellegrino was hired to help Southampton take the “next steps” after four consecutive top-eight finishes in the Premier League, the fans did not expect them to be backwards ones.
Twelve games into the Argentine’s first season, however, they might be scratching their heads wondering about the logic of sacking Claude Puel under who they finished eighth last season and reached the final of the League Cup.
Three matches without a victory and one win in seven means they have their lowest points total after 12 games since the 2012-13 campaign when they were coming to terms with being back in the top flight after a seven-year absence.
Rumblings of discontent can already be heard meaning Saturday’s home clash with Everton takes on even greater significance for former Liverpool player Pellegrino and his struggle win over followers of the south coast club.
Southampton, 14th with 13 points, are only one point worse off than this time last year under Puel, but considering European qualification was touted as a realistic aim this time, it is not where they expected to be.
With trips to Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United before the end of the year, they are in danger of being dragged towards the relegation places.
What is more, the players’ attitude was questioned in last week’s listless 3-0 defeat by Liverpool.
”We need to be upset. If you are not upset then something is wrong,“ defender Cedric Soares said. ”You want to climb out of the hole and come back to winning ways.
“Every team has difficult moments during a season and it’s in these moments you need to come together and fight for it.”
Pellegrino, who took Alaves to ninth in La Liga last season and to the Copa del Rey final -- almost mirroring Puel’s season at St Mary’s -- will only need to look around the other clubs in the lower half to know how precarious his tenure could be.
Everton, a point and two places below Southampton, have already pressed the ejector button this season -- sacking Ronald Koeman after a dreadful start saw them in the bottom three.
Caretaker manager David Unsworth is likely to still be in charge on Saturday, although the silence over his prospects of taking over on a full-time basis is deafening.
Watford’s Marco Silva has been continually linked with tel job and refused to rule himself out of the running on Thursday.
Yet Unsworth has sparked something of a revival of sorts in Everton over last two games. They came back from 2-0 down to beat Watford 3-2, then drew 2-2 with bottom club Crystal Palace.
Former Everton winger Andrei Kanchelskis believes Unsworth, who stepped up from coaching the under 23s, should be given the chance to steady the Goodison Park ship.
”If a new coach comes in he needs time to look at the players and some coaches come in and say ‘I don’t want this player, I want to buy a new player’ which will be extra money.
“For me Everton should keep these on until the end of the season and after see what happens,” he told Sky Sports.
Everton have lost on three of their last four visits to St Mary’s and are without a win in their last six away games.
They also suffered a blow this week when Senegal striker Oumar Niasse who was handed a two-game ban for “deceiving a match official” by diving to win a penalty against Palace.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Mitch Phillips