Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe analyses the crucial role played by Southampton striker Danny Ings, who has now scored in his last five Premier League appearances and is eyeing a Saints record on Saturday...
Danny Ings will have two things firmly on his agenda heading into this weekend’s showdown with West Ham.
First and foremost, he’ll aim to help his side to a three-point haul that could catapult them up the table.
A bit of momentum heading into the Christmas period can change a club’s outlook – as evidenced by this very team last year – and Ings will undoubtedly be key to gaining that.
There’s also a personal stake in this for the 27-year-old. His goal against Newcastle United last Sunday meant he’s now scored in five consecutive Premier League games – a feat so rare even Matt Le Tissier only managed it twice.
If he bags against the Hammers, he’ll move to six on the trot and level with James Beattie, who set the Premier League record for the club back in 2003.
Ings is not the kind of player to allow a personal mission overtake the wider team one. In fact, he’s about as team-oriented as strikers get, resembling something of a Roberto Firmino-type presence up front, linking play, pressing selflessly and setting an aggressive tone from the front.
But the fact Ings is in with a shot of equalling a record that’s stood for 16 years illuminates how much he’s improved over the last year, now finally injury-free and enjoying some momentum of his own.
His tally of nine Premier League goals so far this season puts him level with illustrious names such as Sadio Mané, Harry Kane, Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling. Mohamed Salah is two back, Firmino five back.
It’s a matter of time before he hits double figures in the league, having already done so in all competitions. Southampton haven’t seen a player do that for more than three years.
He’s also well on course for his best-ever top-flight scoring season, his 11 goals for Burnley in 2014/15 standing his current PB.
The improvement can be attributed to hard work and sustained fitness. Ings cites small-sided games in training that have given him an edge when finishing, while Ralph Hasenhüttl speaks more broadly, simply saying “this is the result of a guy who is working his a** off.”
They’ll have watched West Ham’s defensive disorganisation during preparation this week and identified a few areas of potential joy.
The Hammers try to hold a defensive line outside the box for as long as possible, creating gaps for clever movers like Ings to slip into, then create room for a shot.
They also proved incredibly careless with the ball against Arsenal on Monday, allowing the game to see-saw back and forth. That’ll suit Southampton’s high-energy approach, led from the front by their red-hot No. 9.
Goals aren’t everything to Ings – “If I come off the pitch and haven’t scored but we’ve got three points then I’m over the moon,” he said earlier this month – nor are they the only yardstick Hasenhüttl measures him by.
But in the back of every No. 9’s mind is a picture of the goal and a vision of the net rippling, and if Ings manages that for a sixth consecutive game on Saturday, he’ll join esteemed company, etch his name into the club’s history books and go some way toward earning a potential win for the team.