Tuesday 23 January 2018

'Little diamond' will just get better purrs Saints' boss

Southampton 6-1 Aston Villa

Southampton's Sadio Mane scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history
Southampton's Sadio Mane scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history

Tom Pretski

As the stopwatch beeped on 4 minutes 33 seconds after Robbie Fowler completed his hat-trick against Arsenal in April 1994, the former England striker could have been forgiven for thinking that record would secure his legacy for some time.

Fowler's achievements will no doubt be talked about among generations to come but that particular record was destroyed in under three minutes by Sadio Mane, Southampton's "little diamond", against Aston Villa.

Villa left-back Alan Hutton blamed "a mad 10 minutes" for his team's rapid demise at St Mary's but 2 minutes 50 seconds was all Mane needed to send the historians into a spin.

Results elsewhere meant that the damage caused to Villa will not prove fatal but, such was the devastation of Mane's achievement, the psychological scars may take longer to heal.

"We have played against him before. We know he is a quality player and we know what he is about," Hutton said, offering no excuses.

The impressive statistics do not end with the hat-trick feat for the Senegal international Mane, whose exploits were described as "unbelievable and surreal" by the Southampton midfielder Steven Davis.

Mane himself said: "I'm very happy. It's important to score for the team but I am just happy that the team won for the fans - they're always amazing, unbelievable. Everybody is happy."

No player has been fouled more frequently in the Premier League this season, a testament to his searing pace, while the 23-year-old has scored more league goals in 2015 than any other player not recognised as a traditional striker.

"No, I don't see any player who has that speed like Sadio," said Saints manager Ronald Koeman when invited to compare his player's qualities with those of the Premier League's other attacking talent.

"Use that speed, use that movement and the rest of the players have to know what is his quality. That understanding today was fantastic. That's a great player - still a young player who will be better next season."

John Terry is a notable example of one such player who has been hypnotised by the artfulness of the Saints' twinkling jewel.

The Chelsea captain voted for Mane to be in the Premier League team of the season after being left trailing in his wake in each of the games between the sides this season.

"He is a handful for any defence," James Ward-Prowse said. "It all happened so fast. Everyone was in shock. We couldn't believe what was going on."

Presumably Villa's bewildered players offered similar assessments to their manager at half-time, when they trailed 5-1.

"I'm not sure it needs a post-mortem," Tim Sherwood said, confirming that his dressing room was a quiet place to be during the interval.

"At half-time we just tried to calm them down and just make them aware that it wasn't good enough which they were all aware of.

"They're not stupid and to make sure that we tried to get some pride out of the second period."

Sherwood added: "We just have to take this one on the chin and get it out of our system as soon as possible." The Villa manager conceded that he would "have to watch it [the match] again".

Villa are safe despite their mauling, but Sherwood will not allow his players to bask in that comfort.

"They're all playing for their futures - immediate futures and long term," he warned.

Southampton's immediate future revolves around a possible first qualification for the Europa League - a competition which they are vying for entry to with Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

Each of the teams play away on the final day, with Southampton at Manchester City, although Arsenal defeating Villa in the FA Cup final and the Saints finishing seventh may represent a more realistic pathway for Koeman's side.

"It's what we wanted at this stage, to be going into the final game of the season with something to play for," Davis said. "It's a great achievement for all the lads."

Koeman will be hoping that qualification would strengthen his hand in the transfer market and prevent the kind of exodus endured by the club last summer.

"We don't like to make a lot of changes in the team but we know we are not Man United, we are not Man City, we are not Chelsea, we are Southampton," he said, smiling.

"We are trying to develop ourselves as a club and normally you lose some players but I don't think it will be in numbers that happened last season."


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