A few minutes after the final whistle Ralph Hasenhüttl and his players linked arms in front of the away support to toast a much-needed victory and a long overdue first clean sheet of the season, Southampton the last team in England’s top four divisions to claim one.
Was it a defiant show of unity? A symbol of togetherness despite the never-ending, engulfing sense of crisis? Or a chance to celebrate only their second away win since February with fans, safe in the knowledge that his future visits to Bournemouth’s beaches will not be tarnished? “I’m very often here and enjoy this beautiful landscape,” a smiling Hasenhüttl said afterwards. “It’s always good when you pass here and know that you haven’t lost.”
It is amazing what three points can do. Che Adams’s expertly-taken ninth-minute header was enough to hoist Southampton out of the relegation zone and garner belief that perhaps all is not lost under Hasenhüttl, even if his side were camped inside their own half for long periods. The stakes were always going to be high for Hasenhüttl and the agitation never ceased as the Southampton manager paced around the away technical area. The last time Southampton tasted victory Scott Parker was still in charge of Bournemouth and the roars of relief were palpable at the final whistle, especially given Mohammed Salisu’s heroic clearance off the line moments earlier.
At one point in the first half Hasenhuttl removed his black baseball cap and gave the referee, John Brooks, an earful. It was a snapshot that spoke to the pressure that has been mounting on Hasenhüttl in recent weeks – Southampton came into this game with a grim record of 15 defeats in their past 22 matches – and how he needed this result before hosting leaders Arsenal on Sunday. Hasenhüttl is the fourth-longest serving manager in the Premier League but has been lurching from stable to insecure for what feels like an eternity. For Bournemouth, this defeat marks the first bump in the road for a while, this Gary O’Neil’s first defeat in interim charge.
Southampton revamped their squad in the summer with an influx of young players but Hasenhüttl named his eldest starting lineup of the season. The 26-year-old Croatia defender Duje Caleta-Car shone on his second start after replacing Armel Bella-Kotchap, who is sidelined with a dislocated shoulder. “We know we have to fight as a group after an intense transfer window in the summer,” Hasenhüttl said. “We speak very often about the patience we need to have for them. It is not always that you get this patience in this business, especially when you are a little bit long working in the club like I am. Sometimes the patience is not always there. From the whole pressure you have in the Premier League it is not easy to go through this but it’s the only way we can do it.”
It felt pertinent that Adams pointed to his ear as he wheeled away in celebration and his header went some way to quelling the noise. Mohamed Elyounoussi, who missed a chance to put the game to bed late on, skewing wide from the angle, surged down the right before switching play to Romain Perraud, who sent a cross in from the left. Adams peeled off the Bournemouth defender Marcos Senesi towards the penalty spot and the Southampton striker sent a fine glancing header into the corner. Hasenhüttl’s double fist pump in the direction of the away support on one side of this stadium also felt telling. The Southampton substitute Moussa Djenepo also squandered a chance to seal victory but they just about did enough to end Bournemouth’s pristine unbeaten run.
Marcus Tavernier was perhaps Bournemouth’s brightest spark but they struggled to truly work Gavin Bazunu in the Southampton goal. Bournemouth’s biggest complaint centred on a penalty claim when Junior Stanislas’s cross struck Salisu’s right arm in the second half. “The ball hits Lloyd Kelly at Nottingham Forest from a similar distance, it’s a penalty,” O’Neil said. “The ball hits Jefferson Lerma at Newcastle, it’s a penalty. The ball hits Salisu, it’s not penalty. Hopefully the officials can clear up what is and what isn’t [a penalty] because I don’t see much difference.”