After getting off the mark with his first goals for the club at Fulham last weekend, Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe assesses the growing influence of Southampton midfielder Stuart Armstrong...
It’s important to pick the positives out of any defeat. Sometimes that’s a simple task, at other times it’s rather difficult. For Mark Hughes, this week it was undoubtedly the former.
Southampton ultimately departed Craven Cottage last Saturday having been edged in a goal-filled affair, but Stuart Armstrong’s excellent performance will have given the manager a reason to feel bright.
The Scot’s participation since signing in the summer has been limited due to knocks and niggles, preventing him from gaining a foothold in the XI.
Despite being a Saint for close to four months, he remains something of an unknown quantity to many fans, a question mark, with just five starts in all competitions to his name.
Perhaps this last week can act as a launchpad for his career on the south coast, enabling him to string together successive matches and show everyone what he’s capable of.
There’s no doubt, judging by what he brought to the table against Fulham, that he has valuable skills that few others in the squad can offer.
His two goals captured the attention – particularly the second, a sumptuous long-range strike – and that’s a quality Southampton must look to utilise more and more.
He’s certainly a willing shooter, another of his attempts leading to an excellent Manolo Gabbiadini chance on the rebound, and a proclivity to take a chance will naturally lead to more goals for Saints.
It wasn’t just his goalscoring impact that was impressive at Craven Cottage, though; his all-round game shone too.
Operating from the number ten role behind Charlie Austin but with license to drop in and help build, dart wide to create or run the channels to stretch the defence, he soon became the focal point of the club’s attacks.
He dipped in and out of space, dancing between the lines in a way only one other current Saint, Danny Ings, really can.
He was also fairly aggressive, stepping out from his position to pressure Fulham’s centre-backs and hurry their passes wide.
Hughes’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation last weekend, perhaps in response to Ings’s absence, certainly opened up a role for Armstrong in this team that wasn’t previously present in the 4-4-2 formation in use before, but this will give the manager something to consider.
At the very least it holds the team over in the final third while Ings is injured, but moving forward do they, as a pairing, offer Southampton’s most dangerous, potent configuration?