Nathan Jones’ approval rating as Southampton manager has barely risen above zero since his arrival on the south coast from Luton Town in November.
Greeted with a discernible wave of indifference by Saints supporters following his appointment, the sight of almost 10,000 empty seats at St Mary’s for an EFL Cup quarter-final against Manchester City was a gauge of the current mood around the club.
Jones has lost his first four Premier League games in charge and when Southampton went a goal behind in the FA Cup third round tie at Crystal Palace at the weekend, the visiting support questioned the validity of his methods and quality of football in what can be politely described as graphic and robust terms.
Southampton went on to win, of course, but it is a sign of the instant demands for success heaped on a new manager that someone who only took over in November was regarded by some as a serious candidate for the sack in early January.
And so it was, with football’s glorious capacity for surprise, that Jones and Southampton turned form and logic on its head in the EFL Cup quarter-finals as the Premier League’s bottom club thoroughly deserved to unseat the reigning champions and competition favourites by a 2-0 margin
Southampton have now been handed a semi-final meeting with Newcastle United as they close in on an unlikely Wembley appearance, given their struggles this season.
To describe the mood among those with a Southampton favour before kick-off as pessimistic would rank as a masterpiece of understatement.
And while a victory of this importance does not mean it is time to start serving up large helpings of humble pie, Jones certainly deserved his celebration on the pitch and the warm ovation he received going down the tunnel, as he can now contemplate an EFL Cup semi-final.
Pep Guardiola attempted to inject life into City as Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland were sent on but even though Argentina World Cup winner Julian Alvarez had a couple of presentable chances that he was unable to take, there was never a moment when Southampton were under siege.
Jones was in vibrant mood after the victory and who can blame him? He has had to listen to tough judgements on his work since coming to St Mary’s so the manner of the performance and such a statement result against elite opponents as Manchester City, and one of the game’s managerial greats in Guardiola, will do wonders for self-belief on and off the pitch.