As Lee Mason blew his whistle to signal the end of Saturday's game between Southampton and Sunderland. a smattering of boos echoed round the stadium. It was a noise as confusing as it was disappointing.
New Saints boss Claude Puel has seems to have earned the ire of a number of Southampton fans who regularly attend games at St. Mary's, as well as those who watch from home. I was dreading the online dross which would ensue.
Puel looks as out of his depth as a cardboard submarine #saintsfc— Ser Roger Liver-Thor (@LiverThor) August 27, 2016
Claude Puel with 2 of the worst substitutions I've ever witnessed. #SaintsFC— Sam Ridout (@sridout92) August 27, 2016
Puel isn't lasting a season. Absolute joke. #Saintsfc— Reece Clark (@ReeceClark2) August 27, 2016
#saintsfc Puel is a clown.— CabbageFace (@Cabbage_Face) August 27, 2016
In reference to the second tweet, Puel's substitutions were also booed. The decision to replace Dusan Tadic with Shane Long was met with jeers, until they were drowned out by Tadic's chant - a chant sung by defiant Saints fans who disagreed with the French coach's decision. Pierre-Emil Hjobjerg being substituted for James Ward-Prowse was similarly derided.
But, in reality, those substitutions were positive and changed the momentum of the game. With Saints lagging a goal down from the penalty of Jermain Defoe - the one real chance Sunderland were gifted all game - the changes made by Puel were positive for a man already being lumbered with the tag of wanting to play football negatively.
With the help of some dodgy Sunderland goalkeeping, Jay Rodriguez - one of those criticised substitutions - equalised for Southampton with five minutes remaining.
It wasn't just the internet turning against Puel. A fan called into 606 and bleated on about how bad Puel is for the nation to hear. Listen to it here (from 14:00). Get ready to cringe.
When did these Southampton fans become so entitled? Everton fans were ridiculed by Saints fans for their delusions of grandeur during the whole Ronald Koeman mess. But, now, it all looks a tad hypocritical.
Judging by most Southampton fans I have seen/read/talked to, we were being realistic about the season ahead. Common consensus appeared to be that we would have a poor season compared to last - with most fans placing us around mid-table - but, the season will be lifted with a fantastic European adventure in this year's Europa League.
Why has that thought process changed?
A lot of negative talk directed at Puel seems to stem from comparisons to that of Koeman, Mauricio Pochettino and Nigel Adkins. But, this season isn't like the others: after three seasons of summer sales, Saints have now sold all their (seemingly) priceless, best commodities.
In the last two seasons under Koeman, Southampton have lost key players in Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne. In their place, Saints signed Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle, Virgil van Dijk (and Toby Alderweireld on loan before that). Jordy Clasie and Cedric Soares - while strengthening with the likes of Sadio Mane, Oriol Romeu, Fraser Forster, Cuco Martina and Charlie Austin in the meantime.
Then, we directly replaced outgoing players with new blood, while strengthening the squad in the meantime. Now, under Puel, Mane has been replaced by Nathan Redmond and Wanyama with Hjobjerg. But, who is replacing Pelle? Where is the squad strengthening this season - a season where we are actually playing proper Europa League football for real this time around?
There are rumours swirling about a couple more players coming in before this summer's transfer window closes - namely Sofiane Boufal - but, Puel appears to be in an unenviable position. Under Adkins, Pochettino and Koeman, Saints have enjoyed nothing but improvement for the last six seasons. But, they appeared to have bigger backing from the Saints board in a financial sense - which is completely at odds at the continued swollen transfer fees we are selling players for and a new influx in TV money.
Not only have Southampton again sold their best players, but Puel is a man who comes into the club with his own system to implement, whereas Koeman was always happy to continue with the style Pochettino had in place beforehand. Uprooting the club each summer with new players and new managers every other summer is bound to have some hiccups along the way. We have been more than fortunate over the last few years that this hadn't happened sooner.
I hope that these next couple of days will prove this point incorrect, and Saints sign some quality in a show of support for the under-fire Frenchman.
@StMarysMusings @PushAndPuel can i just leave this here? Only matter of time before it clicks! pic.twitter.com/e736QQDuXx— Terry Axton (@terryaxton) August 28, 2016
As Puel's critics appear to be in the business of comparing him to his predecessors, let's have a look for ourselves. Stats don't tell the whole story - these in particular, considering we are only three games into the season - but, it does provide some insight and context.
However, comparing starts for our last four Premier League managers provides an even better insight as to how mad Saints fans should be at Puel so far.
Adkins' first three games (12/13):
Man City (A): 3-2 L
Wigan (H): - 0-2 L
Manchester United (H): 2-3 L
Total points: 0
Pochettino's first three games (12/13):
Everton (H): 0-0 D
Manchester United (A): 2-1 L
Wigan (A): 2-2 D
Total points: 2
2013/14 under Pochettino:
West Brom (A): 0-1 W
Sunderland (H): 1-1 D
Norwich City (A): 0-1 L
Total points: 4
Koeman's first three games (14/15):
Liverpool (A): 2-1 L
West Brom (H): 0-0 D
West Ham (A): 1-3 W
Total points: 4
2015/16 under Koeman:
Newcastle (A): 2-2 D
Everton (H): 0-3 L
Watford (A): 0-0 D
(and knocked out of the Europa League by FC Midtjylland in the process)
Total points: 2
2016/17 under Puel:
Watford (H): 1-1 D
Manchester United (A): 2-0 L
Sunderland (H): 1-1 D
Total points: 2
The comparison between Koeman and Puel over the last two seasons is the most telling. Both only managed a draw against Watford and a draw against a struggling North East club (I don't think Sunderland will be getting relegated like Newcastle did, however.) Were fans calling for Koeman's head after a poor start which included one of our worst home performances in memory against Everton? No. They didn't. Were fans calling for Adkins' head after three losses and looking out of his depth at the top level of English football? No. They didn't. How about Pochettino after his two point haul in 2012/13? Nope.
In fact, compare Saints' home game against Sunderland last season compared to what transpired on Saturday. With both games - we were poor but the better team throughout and were hit by sucker blow(s) to be trailing with only a few minutes left on the clock, before salvaging a late point through van Dijk and Jay Rodriguez respectively.
Did Koeman get lambasted by idiots for only earning a point at home to Sunderland? Even the celebrated Pochettino could only muster a home draw against Sunderland in 2013. It's as if our flukey 8-0 win over them (with the help of three own goals) has made everyone conveniently forget that Sunderland tend to be fairly decent opposition down at St. Mary's despite the travel. Funny how short memories are in football.
Look, Saturday was a disappointing result for all concerned and our start to the season has been largely uninspiring. We didn't play particularly well against Sunderland, but we were the better team - that's irrefutable - and we managed to salvage a late point from a situation which looked pretty dire. Disagree with Puel all you want in these early stages, but to boo him just THREE games into the season is, quite frankly, embarrassing and totally idiotic.
Puel hasn't enjoyed the backing his predecessors have... Yet. Give him time. Let's not be spoiled brats and get behind the man. It's time for both Southampton fans and the board to support Puel - jeering him is most definitely counterproductive and pretty ludicrous given our realistic pre-season expectations and considering how early it is in this 2016/17 Premier League campaign.