'Turning point’ - Leeds United warning as Southampton star hails change and closes in on record
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Southampton sacked Nathan Jones as head coach after just 14 games in charge as this month’s 2-1 defeat at home to Wolves which left the side bottom of the Premier League proved the final straw. First team lead coach Ruben Selles took caretaker charge as the Saints then looked to recently-sacked former Whites boss Jesse Marsch as Jones’ replacement.
But talks with the American broke down which led to Selles taking Southampton into Saturday’s clash at Chelsea in which a Ward-Prowse free-kick gave the Saints a 1-0 success. Selles is now long odds on to be the next permanent Saints boss and Ward-Prowse has hailed both the caretaker manager’s impact and the possible “springboard” of the weekend’s win at Stamford Bridge.
The victory took the bottom-placed Saints within one point of second-bottom Leeds ahead of next Saturday’s relegation-scrap six pointer at Elland Road. Ward-Prowse, meanwhile, is now just one free-kick away from equalling the Premier League record held by former Manchester United star David Beckham following his decisive set piece at Stamford Bridge.
Beckham scored 18 times with direct free-kicks during 11 seasons at Old Trafford and Ward-Prowse took his tally to 17 with his strike at Chelsea which the midfielder is optimistic will now lead to bigger and better things.
"We’re really pleased,” said Saints skipper Ward-Prowse to southamptonfc.com. "It’s been a tough week. There’s been a lot of outside noise, a bit of chaos around the place but Rubén has come in and shown a bit of calmness and great leadership in that moment and settled everyone down and given everybody confidence in a familiar way of playing.
“I think you can see that belief from minute one. There was a game there to be had, you could feel that in the stadium and thankfully a huge win. It’s a familiar way of playing for us. We want to be front footed and take the game to teams, especially if Chelsea themselves aren’t in a great moment. It’s a really positive result and one that we deserved. We rode our luck at times but you’ve got to do that. We’ve not had the greatest of luck lately but it was with us.
"It’s not been an easy season but today is a massive turning point and a springboard hopefully for what’s to come. I think it’s about consistency now, that’s what separates the teams at the bottom to the teams at the top. It’s about performing consistently every week so to follow this up now with a good performance now is what we need.”
Reflecting on his latest set piece strike, Ward-Prowse said: “I was relying on my ability and the good work I’ve done in the week on the training pitch. Every week, to be there practicing and for them to come off at the weekend validates all of that hard work.
“More importantly they contribute to team goals and team wins and that’s the most important thing. I think it’s been a disappointing theme for us where we’ve gone into half time with the lead and then we’ve dropped back and been a bit scared of what’s to come.
"I felt as though we were front footed, we obviously knew they were going to come but to hold on to the lead and to be solid I think speaks volumes about the steps we’ve made in the last few days."