LONDON (Reuters) - Former Red Bull Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuettl emerged as odds-on favourite to fill Mark Hughes’ shoes at Southampton, after the Premier League strugglers sacked their manager on Monday with the club mired in the relegation zone.
British bookmaker William Hill priced the former Austrian international striker a short 8-11 price to replace Hughes, having tumbled from a 33-1 shot only an hour earlier.
Hasenhuettl left Leipzig in May this year after securing Europa League football, but Southampton may also be about to plunder the Bundesliga Club for their Head of Recruitment, with Paul Mitchell on their list as a replacement for former vice-chairman Les Reed.
Mitchell would be a popular choice among south-coast fans after developing players including Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers and Nathaniel Clyne during a 2012-2014 spell as Director of Recruitment and Scouting at Saints.
Southampton made no comment on the hunt for Hughes’ replacement when contacted by Reuters, other than to say the search for a new manager was already underway.
Hughes’ departure was met with relief by many Southampton fans who have grown frustrated at the 55-year-old’s inability to get the most from a talented squad.
“About time,” one fan wrote in response to the news on the Southampton newspaper Daily Echo’s website. “Thank God... thank God,” wrote another, while a third implored the club’s board: “Just have some ambition. Don’t employ another relegation fiddler...”
A section of Southampton fans directed chants of ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ during the club’s 3-2 defeat by Fulham last week, in a response which was more prescient than timely.
Hughes helped the south-coast club narrowly avoid the drop last season by finishing 17th in the table, but this season they sit 18th in the standings having lost seven out of their 14 matches.
On Saturday they squandered a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Manchester United to take their winless run to 10 games. In eight months at Southampton, former Wales, Manchester City and Stoke City boss Hughes managed only five victories in 27 games in all competitions.
Their only league win this season came against Crystal Palace in September, and in fact their success-starved fans have seen Southampton win only one league match at home in the past 12 months - a squeaky 2-1 victory over Bournemouth in April.
Before Saturday’s draw with United, Southampton had lost 3-2 at fellow relegation-threatened side Fulham and had been knocked out of the League Cup by Leicester City on penalties.
First-team assistant coach Kelvin Davis will lead the team for Wednesday’s match against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium.
Southampton’s new manager will be Saints’ fourth boss in two years. Since Ronald Koeman left to join Everton in 2016, Southampton have also fired Claude Puel and Mauricio Pellegrino.
Former Saints defender Franny Benali said the focus now must be on stability.
“This is a massive opportunity and will be an attractive position for many managers,” he told the Daily Echo.
“A number of people are being linked and that’s no surprise. Looking at the squad we’ve got, I genuinely believes it’s good enough to stay up. It’s a big opportunity to get the right appointment and some stability which we haven’t had in recent times.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin and Shrivathsa Sridhar; editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge