Weblog: The football punter

Southampton to make their point for Hughes

Premier League
BT Sport 1, 5.30pm Saturday

Mark Hughes is 1-7 to be the next Premier League boss out of work and 1-8 with Betway to be gone in the next few days, but if the former Manchester United hero is on his way out of St Mary’s it might not be with a defeat.

Sparky is under massive pressure following Tuesday night’s League Cup exit at Leicester, although the reason he’s such a skinny price for the sack is the chronic league form which has seen Saints plunge into the bottom three.

Rumours are rife that ex-Swansea chief Paulo Sousa has already held talks with Southampton and there’s certainly no great support for Hughes among supporters.

The irony is that while Southampton’s numbers are indisputably dreadful – no 90-minute wins in 11 matches, no home wins this season, just ten goals scored in 13 – they aren’t playing awfully. Far from it.

They have eight points and that’s pretty rubbish. But if the league table was calculated after 55 minutes of matches they would have amassed 17 points. It’s not that they can’t get themselves into good positions, they just cannot seem to see games out.

They’ve been the better side in recent weeks against Newcastle, Watford, Fulham and, in the League Cup Leicester, but without much reward.

They’ll surely be no pushovers against United, who look hard to trust at evens away from home this season. Jose Mourinho’s men are hideously inconsistent and if, as punters, we haven’t got a clue what to expect from a team who are throwing in far too many dull efforts, then should we really be seduced by such a short price?

Two of the last three meetings between these sides have ended 0-0, the last five showdowns between them have produced just four goals, and a probable shortage of goals means a heightened possibility of the draw. It’s arguably easier to make a case for the stalemate than it is the other two outcomes.

Mourinho will well understand the predicament Hughes is in having been sack race favourite earlier on in this most underwhelming of seasons.

He has managed to pull out crucial results at the right time – the comeback against Newcastle, the 2-2 draw at Chelsea, the win at Juventus – and qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League is another feather in his cap.

Having said that, their 1-0 win against Young Boys on Tuesday to secure that prize was yet another insipid effort and four months into the season Reds fans are still awaiting some sort of a spark. Mourinho’s latest eulogy for the lumbering Marouane Fellaini suggests they’ll be waiting a while longer yet.

United have notched five away wins this season and chalked up that draw at Stamford Bridge which suggests they find it easier to play on the road than at home.

But they still look a long way from the top-four certs Mourinho has them down as, and a negative goal difference after 13 rounds of matches – that hasn't happened to United in 40 years – makes for grim reading.

Southampton will be competitive and energetic and look to deny space while Hughes, almost by accident, has discovered Stuart Armstrong is a useful asset going forward. However, the fact that he won’t be able to link up with top scorer Danny Ings is a negative.

A bet on under 1.5 goals may also be worth considering.


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Match in Focus


Japan v Chile

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Chile have lost only one of their last 12 Copa matches
Expert verdict
Japan haven’t performed up to their usual standards in recent internationals and they will need to up their game if they are to compete with two-time defending champions Chile. The Chileans are hard to trust entirely but recent results in friendlies suggest they should have enough to pinch victory.