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Six since a win is sure sign of Saints slump ahead of tough Xmas

Southampton are now on a run of five straight defeats in all competitions, and Ronald Koeman is getting hot under the collar. Coral make his Saints 9/2 chances to make the top four this term, but they crashed out of the Capital One Cup at Sheffield United.

Marc McNulty, one of a number of Scottish forwards to have starred for the Blades in domestic cup competitions this calendar year, struck the winner after the hour mark. Southampton finished with 10 men as Romanian defender Florin Gardos saw red.

Angry words were exchanged by visiting manager Koeman and Blades boss Nigel Clough, when his bench celebrated the goal. The Dutchman even refused to shake hands with his opposite number at the final whistle.

“I shake hands with people who have respect for me and have respect for the fourth official,” said Koeman after the game. “It looks like everything is against us at the moment. We have to accept that and we have to go on.

“The worst feeling about today is the fans deserved more than that from our game and that’s painful. We knew that it was a tough game. It is not about the level. It is cup football and always different. It was not good enough today and I am disappointed because we did not bring our quality and they deserved the win.”

Club captain Jose Fonte echoes his manager’s sentiments. “It was not acceptable [to lose],” he said. “I would firstly like to apologise to the fans, they didn’t deserve this. That is not us.”

While there is no shame in losing to United, who count Aston Villa and West Ham United among the top flight scalps taken in the FA and League Cup action in 2014, a run of six without a win is cause for concern for Koeman. Only Yorkshire rivals Hull City have beaten the Blades in a major cup in 2014.

Confidence going into a make or break fixture list for Southampton’s top four ambitions, of the Manchester clubs at St Mary’s with Arsenal away sandwiched in between, was high. Subsequent losses at Burnley and Bramall Lane suggest that previous good feeling has gone; a point further reinforced by the fact the south coast side have scored just twice in the last six.

Saints prepare to host Everton, champions-elect Chelsea and Arsenal in their next three home games over the Christmas and New Year period, knowing they have failed to pick up any points from Premier League fixtures against the seven sides that finished above them last term.

A Boxing Day trip to 2/1 relegation chances Crystal Palace is looking like a must-win match, to stop the rot if nothing else. It doesn’t get any easier in 2015 either.

Following an FA Cup third round tie with 10/3 Championship promotion contenders Ipswich Town, Koeman must tackle Manchester United and Newcastle United on the road, followed by home games with high-fliers Swansea, West Ham and Liverpool.

It’s fair to say, then, Southampton look less than certain to even finish in the top six, and an odds-on 4/6 price can only be justified if results improve.