This afternoon, Southampton lost 2-1 against struggling Middlesbrough to record their fourth successive defeat. Does this latest result mean that manager Russell Martin is now on borrowed time?
The Saints dropped into the Championship for the first time since 2012 after finishing rock bottom of the Premier League last season. The summer saw a mass exodus of some of their stars, with the likes of Romeo Lavia, Tino Livramento, James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Tella all departing in big-money moves.
There was also a managerial change to contend with as Russell Martin took over from Ruben Selles, who took over on a short-term basis following the sacking of Nathan Jones in February.
The 37-year-old is widely considered as one of the brightest up-and-coming managers in the English game, and he was handed the reins at St Marys after two years at Swansea City, where he guided the Welsh club to a respectable 10th placed finish last season.
Despite the squad upheaval over the course of the summer, Southampton were immediately touted as one of the favourites to challenge for the title and brought in the likes of Shea Charles and Ross Stewart for a fee, whilst adding the Premier League experience of Mason Holgate, Ryan Fraser and Flynn Downes on loan.
The season began well enough and Southampton laid down a marker to the rest of the division with three wins from their opening four fixtures, with the only blip on their report card being the entertaining 4-4 draw with Norwich City. Then the tables turned.
The south coast giants spent the final days of the transfer window attempting to raid Championship rivals Sunderland, ultimately succeeding in their £10 million pursuit of Stewart, but failing with a £5 million bid for Patrick Roberts. Ironically, the manager took his side to the Stadium of Light for their final fixture before the international break and were humbled as the Black Cats emerged with a 5-0 victory.
The return of league football earlier this month opened up an opportunity to get their season back up and running against fellow promotion favourites Leicester City, but again were on the receiving end of a thumping. Despite dominating large periods of the game, the Foxes were professional in their approach and left St Mary’s with the three points following a 4-1 win.
Martin’s approach was to not criticise his squad, instead opting for the proud dad speech and claiming that they were the better team, although his stance changed following the midweek defeat against Ipswich Town. The former MK Dons boss stated that he was disappointed with the response, but it went from bad to worse this afternoon when they travelled to the Riverside Stadium to face a Middlesbrough side who had picked up just a solitary point so far.
It was an excellent start for Southampton, with Adam Armstrong putting the visitors ahead, but Riley McGree pulled the hosts level just before the break. The Saints misery was compounded midway through the second half when Jonny Howson gave Boro the lead from the penalty spot, and Michael Carrick’s team held on to secure their first win of the campaign whilst Southampton succumbed to their fourth successive defeat.
The latest setback now leaves Martin’s team 11 points behind leaders Leicester after just eight games played. The primary objective at the beginning of the season was not only promotion, but challenging for the Championship title. They still have an immensely talented squad and there is no excuse for their current 15th placed position.
Southampton now have a week to regroup, but it doesn’t get any easier next weekend when they face a rejuvenated Leeds United. The big question is, will Russell Martin still have a job?
The writing now appears to be on the wall for the 37-year-old manager. He arrived to plenty of fanfare and expectations were high heading into the season. Memories of their excellent start have long-since dispersed and there may be a feeling that a change needs to be made before the gap gets too large to claw back.
The 11-point difference between them and Leicester is already a large one, but Southampton are only three points off the play-off positions. He’s only had eight games to stamp his authority on the team and he may be afforded the opportunity to continue until the next international break next month, but the clock is now ticking and Martin desperately needs three points next week. Anything less than that and he could be out of a job.