The boss declared 2020 "a big step forward" for his team. Here's our countdown of the most memorable highs that made Southampton's year of progress possible...
10. ROMEU’S STUNNER
After a slow start to the new season, Saints secured back-to-back wins courtesy of a routine 2-0 home victory over West Brom in early October. Oriol Romeu had not found the net for 20 months when Stuart Armstrong crossed from the left, but the tough-tackling midfielder – so often Saints’ unsung hero – arrived just in time to connect sweetly on the volley from 16 yards, scoring one of the goals of the year.
9. AWAY DAY KINGS
Whilst 2019/20 was full of highs and lows, Saints managed to remain impressively consistent on their travels. The team’s final away game of the season was their shortest trip – 34 miles west to Bournemouth, who were in desperate need of points themselves. Danny Ings and Ché Adams were on target to underline Saints’ south-coast superiority, and secure a club-record ninth Premier League away win of the season.
8. FOOTBALL’S BACK!
After 104 days away, football returned to our screens when Saints finally resumed their Premier League campaign with a trip to Norwich. Three points for the Canaries may have resurrected their season, but second-half goals from Danny Ings, Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond wrapped up a convincing victory behind closed doors, laying the foundations for Saints’ post-lockdown resurgence.
7. OBAFEMI STRIKES LATE
July’s trip to Old Trafford pitted two of the Premier League’s form teams against each other. Free-scoring Manchester United had been sweeping aside all before them, but Saints showcased their progress by going toe to toe with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side. Despite falling behind in the first half, Saints responded admirably, pinned United back and deservedly levelled deep into stoppage time through substitute Michael Obafemi.
6. WARD-PROWSE AT THE DOUBLE
James Ward-Prowse has always been a set-piece specialist, but 2020 has seen the Saints skipper establish himself as perhaps the Premier League’s finest dead-ball exponent. He’d already assisted a bullet header for Jannik Vestergaard when Saints were awarded two free-kicks in 12 first-half minutes against Aston Villa. Ward-Prowse dispatched both with unerring precision in a statement display at Villa Park.
5. WALCOTT’S HOMECOMING
Saints have traditionally targeted young players with bags of potential in recent transfer windows, so the signing of 31-year-old Theo Walcott somewhat broke the mould. But Walcott was back home, nearly 15 years since departing Southampton for Arsenal as a teenager, and his performances have given Saints’ attacking play an extra dimension. His boyish enthusiasm made this move one of the feel-good stories of 2020.
4. REDEMPTION AT LEICESTER
Doesn’t this feel like a lifetime ago? Back in January, a transformed Saints side headed to Leicester fresh from a fruitful festive period and full of confidence, just 11 weeks since their lowest ebb, inflicted by the same opponents. Talk of a revenge mission was quashed by Ralph Hasenhüttl, but this was clearly an emotional victory, as Saints fought back from a goal down to win 2-1. The turnaround was complete.
3. ADAMS SHOCKS CITY
There was a clear improvement in Saints’ performances after lockdown, but they were still big underdogs when hosting Manchester City at St Mary’s. Recalled to the starting line-up, Ché Adams ended a run of 29 goalless games to open his Saints account in spectacular style, memorably scoring the winner with a first-time lob from 40 yards to embarrass goalkeeper Ederson, as Saints defended heroically to hold on.
2. FANS AGAIN – AT LAST!
The 2,000 Southampton supporters in attendance for this season’s 3-0 victory over Sheffield United will always remember Sunday 13th December 2020. After nine months away, fans were finally back at St Mary’s to see their rapidly-progressing team ease past the Blades. It may not have been a full house, but it was a start. One day the stadium will be reverberating to the sound of 32,000 voices again...
1. STOP THE COUNT
Having begun 2020 scrapping for survival, the first Friday of November saw Saints create a little piece of history by topping the Premier League table for the very first time. Ché Adams scored early and Stuart Armstrong scored late as Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men overcame Newcastle 2-0 to hit the top-flight summit for the first time since 1988 – a joyous moment for thousands of screenshot-saving supporters.