Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has challenged his side to take the “last step” towards securing another season in the Premier League by beating south-coast rivals Bournemouth.
The Saints head into the final three matches of the campaign with a six-point cushion over relegation-battlers Cardiff following their midweek draw at Watford.
It has been upward progress at St Mary’s Stadium since the Austrian succeeded Mark Hughes in December.
In the 20 league games following his arrival, Southampton have picked up 28 of their overall season tally of 37 points.
Three more against Bournemouth would see them reach 40 points – the traditional safety mark in the Premier League – and Hasenhuttl feels the players owe it to everyone at the club to produce the required performance.
“I know this is something like a derby against Bournemouth on the south coast, because they are not so far away from each other,” the Southampton manager said.
“It is a special game and for us it is mainly a special game because we can make the last step.
“We are very motivated to make the last step in front of our crowd – it is exactly what we wanted to have three games before the end and now we have the chance.”
Bournemouth have already made sure of their own place at England’s top table again next season.
Their stop-start campaign, though, was summed up by following an impressive 5-0 win at Brighton by losing at home against relegated Fulham last weekend.
Nevertheless, Hasenhuttl has nothing but respect for the work of Cherries boss Eddie Howe, who operates on one of the lowest budgets in the Premier League.
“I think they had a very calm season, because they had a fantastic start and took immediately a lot of points. The second half of the season was not that good, but they have never been in trouble,” Hasenhuttl said.
“They have very young manager with a lot of games in the Premier League, a lot of experience and who has done a fantastic job.”
Hasenhuttl believes his side must adopt the mindset which helped them see off Wolves 3-1 in their last match at St Mary’s.
“At home we must find a good game balance of playing in front, but also being compact like against Wolves, a very good team,” Hasenhuttl said at a press conference reported by the club.
“The same is necessary against Bournemouth – find a good balance of playing forward, of having the ball or working against the ball.
“If we do, we have good automatism and good habits, so we can create problems for every team.”
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