Saints' top scorer discusses his hot streak in front of goal, and how he unwinds away from football.
With six goals in his last seven games, Danny Ings is one of the Premier League’s in-form strikers.
A year and a couple of months since he declared himself “home”, having signed for his boyhood club on the dawn of the 2018/19 campaign, it’s worked out pretty well so far, but not without a few peaks and troughs along the way.
Ings soon became Saints’ talisman as he scored goals freely in spite of the team’s struggles in the first half of last season, finding the net eight times in his first 14 appearances for the club.
Conversely, with results improving under Ralph Hasenhüttl, the goals dried up and injury struck to halt his momentum.
This time around, Ings is fitter than ever. He’s forced his way back into the side and hasn’t looked back since.
For all the highs and lows football brings, of which Ings has experienced more than most in a 10-year career to date, the man himself has learned to stay level-headed, and it’s no surprise that he welcomes us with open arms to his home near Hedge End for this interview.
A popular character in the dressing room, Ings is a positive guy who’s always smiling and makes time for everyone. He has a lot of love to give, so signing for Saints to feel that love back seemed the right fit.
“I’m settled now,” he says of Southampton life. “I think it took a long time for me to get settled back down here because when you’ve been living away from home since you were 15 or 16 years old, and then moving back a man, it’s hard to adapt.
“It does feel familiar. I chose to live close enough to my family and friends so that I could settle in as quickly as I could.
“It’s great to be close to them, being able to pop in for a cuppa or go out for dinner with the boys. It’s nice, and something I’ve not had for a long time.
“It was always them coming to visit me in different locations, so it’s nice to be back home.”
Seeing his family in nearby Netley, where Ings grew up, is just one of many ways he finds to spend his time away from Staplewood.
He reveals in his Liverpool career, punctuated by a combined 18 months out of action with serious injuries to both knees, he would spend 10 hours a day working on his return to fitness.
“I was told by someone once that footballers really earn their money when they’re injured,” he says. “I agree completely.”
So now, whilst Hasenhüttl is known for his intense training, Ings still has time to kill and intends to use it wisely.
When he’s not making the short drive to see his mum, he’s learning the guitar or studying a degree in economics.
He goes to see Ed Sheeran in concert, or The 1975, and is a keen film watcher with his girlfriend. And he loves a Sunday roast.
Ings likes to be busy, and that side of his personality is reflected in his style of play on the football pitch – all action, pressing from the front, making things happen.
It’s an approach that seems tailor-made to Hasenhüttl’s philosophy and has helped Saints’ number nine climb the scoring charts.
Two of his seven goals for the campaign, as well as one of his brace at Preston in pre-season, have come from charging down goalkeepers.
Lucky goals, on the face of it, but more accurately the result of hard work.
“I actually can’t remember if I’ve scored any goals like that previously, to be honest,” he ponders.
“I’ve always pressed to that extent and there is an element of luck in there sometimes, but if you’re pressing the keeper from 30 or 40 yards and you get something from it, for me that’s better than scoring a goal from 30 yards.”
Away from family, friends, girlfriend, football, music, films and business, there is one more key passion in Ings’s life. Or rather two: his dogs, Lewie and Daisy.
The Goldendoodles are never far from his side and moved down from the north to join him on the south coast.
“When I first moved down, the hotel where I was staying wouldn’t allow dogs in, so I had to leave them with my mum for nearly two months,” he says.
“Every other day or so I’d pop in and see them, making sure they’re ok, but they were happy straight away.
“I’ve had them for a few years now and they helped me feel at home when I was away up north. They’re really good for me.
“When I got them, it was crazy. I was on crutches when I first had them, and they were just running around the house like you wouldn’t believe.
“But after the last few years they’ve calmed down a little bit and they’re really enjoying themselves.
“When we moved here, they loved the house and they’ve got a lovely garden they can run around in. They cause mayhem as much as they can!
“There’s some really good walks for them to go on in the New Forest, and places like that.
“It’s a funny story because, when I went to get them, in my head I was only getting one. That was Lewie because I wanted a boy dog.
“Then all of a sudden when Daisy woke up from her nap, she walked over and sat on my lap. I was sold in about 30 seconds so I had to take two!”
As for the music, Ings was happy to have an audience for his guitar playing, but stopped short of singing along.
“I’ve always loved music,” he reveals. “I tried learning piano when I was up north and I was doing ok, but I thought I’d start learning the guitar.
“I’ve got friends in bands who can play, so I thought why not have a go myself? It’s really enjoyable learning something new. When I managed to learn my first song, it was great.
“I’m currently learning Ed Sheeran songs, just because it’s nice and modern, and people can relate to that. They’re quite hard as well – very, very tricky.
“I like all kinds of music depending on my mood. You can have a song on in the car or you can be learning a song, and it can give you memories from years ago that you wouldn’t think of otherwise. As soon as you listen to that song, it takes you back to good memories.
“I mentioned Ed Sheeran and I’ve seen him three times now. I remember him playing when I first moved up north.
“I was only there for a year or so and he was playing at the Apollo, which is a smaller venue, and he was supported by Passenger – he’s incredible as well. So, after that night, I tried to go to a few more shows.
“I’m enjoying the guitar now because I can come home from a hard day’s training, put everything into that and then the guitar teacher comes around and we have a little jam. It’s great.”
Ings hastily refutes any allegations that he has any input on the Saints’ dressing room playlist, however.
“No, no, I leave that to others! The music I’m learning won’t go down too well before a game – it’s more peaceful, chill out music.”
Now 27, Ings is coming into his prime and determined to make up for the time he lost to injury earlier in his career.
“One thing you realise is that it goes so quick,” he reflects. “From the age of 21 or 22 to now… it feels like yesterday.
“I remember speaking to some of the senior lads when I moved to Burnley and they were saying you’ve got to enjoy it because it just goes like that. And they were right – it really does.
“It can skip by in a heartbeat, so if you don’t put the hard work in, you won’t achieve the things you want to achieve.”
Ings is one of a collection of current Saints who has sampled a taste of the England setup and been left wanting more.
Hasenhüttl was quoted as saying he would be the “happiest man in the world” if a second England call-up was to be forthcoming for his top scorer, but for now, Ings remains focused on maintaining his club form.
With seven goals to his name already, dare he dream of reaching 20?
“I’ve never really set myself targets like that,” he admits. “I’ve just wanted to score as much as I can, assist as much as I can, but most importantly win as much as we can.
“I’m feeling really good, it’s a good start. I could’ve scored more, but I think every striker would say that. It’s definitely a good building block to work from.”
Perhaps the key building block in Ings’s return to top form was September’s south coast derby, where the local boy scored twice to become the hero of Saints’ first win at Fratton Park in 35 years.
It was the game that reclaimed his place in Hasenhüttl’s starting XI, and one in which the childhood Saints fan was desperate to leave a lasting impression.
“When the draw came out, it was mad,” he laughs. “The first person I called on FaceTime was Prowsey. As I called him, he was away from his phone just celebrating around the room. It was brilliant!
“I was thinking, ‘I have to play in that.’ I would’ve been extremely gutted if I didn’t.
“I know there’s a difference in levels and they’re in a lower league to us, but those nights can be bogey nights for big teams, especially in derbies.
“On the way in, you could just feel the atmosphere, the tension and how important the game was.
“You’re playing against Portsmouth – it’s not happened for a long, long time. You’re either going to be a hero or you’re going to let a lot of people down. We knew what we had to do and we went there and did it in style.”
In the first meeting between the clubs since 2012, Ings struck twice in the first half and played a major part in Saints’ third goal en route to a 4-0 win that will live long in the memory of supporters and players alike.
Ings is both, and predictably he had a few messages waiting for him at the end of the game.
“I picked the phone up straightaway and it just went mental,” he shakes his head, still in disbelief.
“My phone went crazy and I had a lot of great messages. It’s appreciated, because it definitely gave me that kick to push on and score a couple more.
“I’ve had quite a lot of people come up to me and talk about it, which is great for any footballer – it’s nice to have that. It can really give you a lift when people appreciate the work you put in.
“But since that game I’ve kept my head down and I’ve not been in and around town. And I’ve definitely not been down Portsmouth way!”