English Premiership

Saints lower sights to Europa

2015-04-10 12:14
Ronald Koeman (AFP)

Southampton - Ronald Koeman has admitted Southampton's target is qualifying for the Europa League after conceding defeat in his side's bid to secure a top-four finish.

The Saints will kick off against Hull City at St Mary's Stadium on Saturday in seventh spot, eight points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City with just seven games remaining in the Premier League season.

Hull's desperate plight - they sit one place and two points outside the bottom three - will ensure Steve Bruce's side arrive on the south coast highly motivated, and a home victory is far from assured.

Southampton manager Koeman accepted it was time for his side to re-evaluate their ambitions for the season after spending most of the campaign eyeing an unexpected route into the Champions League.

He insists, though, a place in European football's secondary competition should certainly not be regarded as a failure at the club.

"You have to be realistic," Koeman said. "Our focus, at the moment, has to be on fifth, sixth and seventh. If Saints reach the Europa League, it's like the rest reaching the Champions League."

Koeman's efforts in lifting the club after the departure of several key players in pre-season has seen the Dutch great tipped as a contender for England's manager of the year award.

A dip in form since the FA Cup defeat by Crystal Palace in late January has ultimately wrecked Southampton's hopes of breaking into the familiar group of names at the head of the table.

Since then they have won just three of their last nine league games, scoring just five goals in the process.

Striker Graziano Pelle's problems in front of goal have attracted most attention, the Italy forward without a league goal since December.

Hull fight

But while the failure to convert chances has undermined their progress, centre-back Jose Fonte said Saints' morale remained high.

"We have a lot to play for, so, for us, the motivation is on a high and we know we have a job to do, so we've got to win this one (against Hull)," Fonte said.

"They're a very good team, they're fighting for their lives, so we know what to expect, so we need to be ready for that."

Meanwhile Hull manager Bruce urged his side to remain in control of their own destiny rather than rely on their rivals dropping points in the race to avoid relegation.

The Tigers are without a win in five matches and, during that sequence have gone from being six points clear of the bottom three to just two.

"We can't be relying on other teams and other results now," said Bruce. "In realistic terms, the teams below us will keep on picking up points.

"That's why it's up to us to go out there and find a couple of wins and a couple of draws in these last seven games. I'm convinced we can do that and stay up."

Hull have lost their last five meetings with Southampton and were outclassed in a 4-1 defeat at St Mary's last season.

"We have to be better at Southampton," said former Manchester United captain Bruce.

"To get a result in the Premier League, you usually have to play well. Sometimes it happens when you have an off day and you don't produce a result. But we can't afford any more now."

 

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