Ralph Hasenhuttl hailed James Ward-Prowse’s never-say-die spirit to muscle his way back into a pivotal role at Southampton.
Ward-Prowse’s thunderbolt strike sealed Saints’ 2-1 Premier League win over Everton at St Mary’s, the England midfielder netting in successive top-flight matches for the first time.
Taskmaster Austrian boss Hasenhuttl told Ward-Prowse to “toughen up” before the turn of the year, and the 24-year-old has quickly delivered as the south coast men continue to sharpen up.
Hasenhuttl praised Ward-Prowse’s patience having been on the periphery in previous regimes, and backed the one-cap England star to keep improving.
“I think he was waiting a long time to be part of the first XI, under different managers before,” said Hasenhuttl.
“But it showed his mentality that he never stopped working hard.
“I think sometimes you earn the chance to play in the first XI, and if you have this chance, grab it with both hands.
“I asked him to be more aggressive against the ball.
“We all knew he’s a good footballer, but he can also win balls, work hard for the team.
“That’s new for him, but he’s showed that he can do it. I like it if the players are working hard during the week and then get to show something they have learned on the weekend.
“He played 120 mins on Wednesday (in the FA Cup against Derby) and there was no doubt for me to send him onto the pitch again.
“And I think he showed how fantastic he is physically and also that he can score goals for us.”
Hasenhuttl has needed just eight matches to claim more Premier League wins at Southampton than previous boss Mark Hughes managed in 22.
The former RB Leipzig manager now boasts four victories in eight league games, with Saints tentatively looking up the table rather than over shoulders to the relegation picture.
Ward-Prowse’s fine strike settled a few nerves after a scoreless first-half, before Andre Gomes put through his own net in flicking away from the marauding Nathan Redmond.
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s added time finish set up a tense finale, but Saints held on for a fully-merited victory – leaving Hasenhuttl delighted and relieved in equal measure.
“At first we were very close to having a first clean sheet at home; it’s a pity we didn’t manage that,” said Hasenhuttl.
“And because of the history of the week where we had led 2-0 and given it away in the end, it was really not nice, these eight minutes of overtime.
“We spoke before the game about what were going to do in the 90-plus minutes in the game. And we never stopped.
“It was fantastic how we defended the last set-pieces, with passion, a lot of character.
“Jan Bednarek is our firefighter in the box, he really gives everything.”
Frustrated Everton boss Marco Silva admitted the Toffees were second best in almost every department.
“Southampton totally deserved the win,” said Silva.
“They were more aggressive than us.
“They were faster than us in some moments also.
“This is something for us to learn for this type of games and how to approach them.”