Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe hands out some alternative awards to recognise a number of key contributions from Southampton's 2018/19 campaign...
Southampton held their annual awards ceremony on Tuesday evening, honouring the best performers at the club during the 2018/19 season.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Nathan Redmond cleaned up, winning both Fans’ Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Year, while Yan Valery won First-Team Young Player of the Year and James Ward-Prowse was singled out for special praise by honorary president Terry Paine MBE.
I couldn’t help but feel, though, that these awards don’t quite cover it. There have been so many pivotal moments, performances and turning points in Saints’ season that are worth remembering and worth rewarding, so we’ve decided to dish out a few more.
The only condition here is that Redmond isn’t eligible for any more; it’s time to give others their stage and spotlight. He probably doesn’t have any more room on his shelf anyway.
Biggest Breakthrough: Jan Bednarek
One of the very first things Ralph Hasenhüttl did upon taking the reins in December was install Bednarek into the starting XI – and he hasn’t dropped out of the side since.
He’s started all 22 Premier League games under the Austrian, and in each one he’s provided the same stern dose of last-ditch blocks and firm tackles.
He’s made the defensive line braver, more stubborn and more at ease while under periods of pressure.
His ability to split wide and cover the flanks has helped Valery immensely, with the young Frenchman very much learning his role in Saints’ system on the fly early on.
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that had Bednarek played a full season at the level he’s played 22 games, he might well have rivalled Redmond for those Player of the Year gongs.
Most Improved Player: James Ward-Prowse
Something clicked for Ward-Prowse this year; with the help of Hasenhüttl’s mentoring, the boyhood Saint has truly begun to develop into the midfielder many have long foreseen.
He’s always been technically neat and capable of curling in a wicked ball, but now he allies that with enhanced tactical understanding; a bite and aggression he was missing before; a want to play faster, quicker; and a consistent goal threat from range.
Seven goals from 20 league starts is a ratio many strikers would be proud of, and several of those have been belters.
Best Team Performance: Southampton 3-2 Arsenal
What a way to announce yourself to your new home crowd!
Hasenhüttl’s St Mary’s debut fixture was an unenviable one in the form of Arsenal, but a display packed with resilience, fight, belief and quality earned them a thrilling 3-2 win—sealed in the 85th minute with a Charlie Austin header.
It was a performance that hinted at the good times to come: not only did they take points off a top-half side – something that would happen a further six times – but it featured elements of Hasenhüttl’s exciting brand of football and saw Redmond break his assist duck for the campaign.
It also flooded the building with belief that not only would Saints survive the threat of relegation, but that something truly special was brewing.
Best Individual Performance: Angus Gunn vs Chelsea
You’d be hard-pushed to find a better Premier League debut this season, at any club, than Angus Gunn’s against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in January.
Unfazed by the task of keeping Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, Willian and co. off the scoresheet, the 23-year-old showed us the full array of his skills.
He did the bread-and-butter basics superbly, saving six shots and showcasing clean handling, but also utilised aggressive positioning to cut out through balls and claim aerially.
It was a near-perfect showing that led Southampton to a clean sheet and a well-deserved point.
Biggest Transformation: Shane Long
Every player in Southampton’s squad has benefited from the appointment of Hasenhüttl, but few more so than Long.
His direct, channel-running style was always likely to click with a manager who encourages the ball to be moved quickly from line to line, and the combination has proved fruitful, to the tune of five goals and one assist in the league.
This is in stark contrast to the months before Hasenhüttl was appointed, a spell in which Long didn’t register a goal or an assist.
It’s not that his playing time has dramatically risen under the new regime, either, it’s simply that far more is being extracted from him.
Some of his contributions have been absolutely vital, too. He delivered the game-winning assist against Arsenal, scored against Leicester City just one minute after Valery’s red card had put Saints’ lead in peril, and netted the quickest goal in Premier League history against Watford, just 7.69 seconds after kick-off.