For the second time in 11 days’ time, Tottenham Hotspur coughed up a lead to Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup, only this time Jose Mourinho’s side was fortunate enough to escape with victory on the back of their own comeback capped off by an 87th-minute penalty kick.
From 1-0 up inside the opening quarter-hour, to a 2-1 down with under minutes to go, to 3-2 in a span of nine minutes, Tottenham are through to the fifth round where they’ll host Norwich City.
Spurs went ahead in the 12th minute and appeared to be off to the races. Ryan Sessegnon raced into the penalty area one-on-one with Jack Stephens before losing out and having the ball tackled away, but it fell directly to Tanguy Ndombele just outside the box. Ndombele hit it hard and low, first-time, and straight at Stephens as he returned to his feet. The ball ricocheted off the Saints defender and left goalkeeper Angus Gunn anchored in place.
The lead didn’t even last until halftime, though, as Shane Long put home a rebound after Hugo Lloris made a diving save in the 34th minute. It was Nathan Redmond‘s initial shot which came in from the edge of the area, only to be saved by the outstretch Lloris. He couldn’t hold the ball and no one in a white shirt arrived to clear the ball away before Long reached the top of the six-yard box and slotted it near post.
That lead lasted almost no time at all, though, as Lucas Moura had Spurs level within five minutes. Lucas and Dele Alli played a quick one-two outside the penalty area and the Brazilian tucked his left-footed finish home just as well as Ings had done minutes earlier.
Son Heung-min won, and converted, the penalty kick that proved the difference on the day, but it was once again Alli who pulled the strings and set up one of the game’s crucial moments. His through ball came cut Saints’ defense in half and left Gunn with no choice but to rush off his line, though it must be said the contact he made with Son was minimal, if any at all.
Southampton have won six of their last nine Premier League games and in that period only Liverpool have won more points than them, as Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side have totally transformed their season. Ings scoring over 50 percent of their goals has, obviously, played a huge part in that as he’s scored winners against Tottenham and Leicester in shock back-to-back victories.
The red-hot Saints host Wolverhampton Wanderers this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) hoping to make it six wins in seven in all competitions as their amazing run of form has coincided with Ings being in the form of his life. With that in mind we went along to Southampton’s training ground in England’s New Forest National Park to speak to the man who sits second in the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.
Full disclosure, this is not the first time I’ve met or spoken to Danny Ings. Back in 2015 I was working on a longform story detailing his rise to Liverpool, via Burnley and Bournemouth, as he’d just made his England debut after breaking into Liverpool’s first team as a regular. I visited his dad Shayne and his partner Sue, and spoke to his family and others close to him as he was set to be the next big thing in English soccer at the age of 23.
Ings then ruptured his ACL in Jurgen Klopp‘s first training session as Liverpool boss. And then did it again two years later. He moved to his hometown club Southampton on an initial loan in 2018 and the $26 million deal became permanent last summer. It is the best deal Southampton have made in some time.
With 16 goals to his name in all competitions this season, and 10 in his last 11 appearances in the Premier League, he’s in the form of his life in front of his family and friends. He is dubbed “King of the Scummers” by Saints fans who revel in his two goals in a 4-0 win away at League One Portsmouth, their bitter rivals, in the League Cup earlier this season and he admitted that game, and becoming even more of a local hero, kickstarted his season.
As he smiles widely while rubbing his heavily tattooed hand across his chin, Ings is thriving on the pressure placed on him at St Mary’s, Saints’ home stadium which is only a couple of miles away from where he grew up. The pressure to deliver match tickets each week for friends is one thing, but scoring goals as the No. 9 is on another level altogether.
“I think when I knew when I was coming here, I was inviting a lot of pressure on myself,” Ings said. “To wear the number nine shirt in front of your hometown, there is a lot or pressure in that alone. But for me, because I was playing at Liverpool before that among lots of world class players who I’ve looked up to and tried to learn from, those were the guys who had more questions than I did after back-to-back knee operations. The craving of having that pressure on myself is something that I wanted for so long and coming here excites me to have that pressure because I know if I come off the pitch and I have scored a goal, it means a lot more to me.”
Not content with just scoring goals for his hometown, Ings is also one of very few players who is working hard in the classroom too. He is currently completing an economics degree and is learning to play the guitar when he switches off from being the man of the moment. Add into that his tireless work in the community with the “Danny Ings Disability Sports Project” charity he set up to help children with disabilities, and he’s doing all he can off the pitch.
On the pitch, Hasenhuttl, his boss at Saints, has labelled Ings ‘outrageous’ among other superlatives and recently said that the form of Ings is “due to him working his ass off” every day. Even on his off days. Ings spent his time off in the summer doing one thing: working his ass off.
He was in Portugal and Los Angeles and Miami training with nutritionists and performance coaches, Alex Parsons and Nicky Holender, who worked on building up his core strength ahead of what was a hugely important season.
After three serious knee injuries spread across his time at Burnley and Liverpool, is he making up for lost time?
“For me, I’m just having fun now, my mindset in my career right now is that if I put the work in Monday to Friday, and I know I’ve done everything I’ve done to prepare for the game ahead, I know I can go out and have fun at the weekend,” Ings smiled. “I feel like people are really seeing that in my performances now, I am playing the game, I am smiling, I am happy. When I’m getting the chance I am trying to be as clinical as I can be. I’m not going to score every week, that’s normal. But if I give myself the best chance of getting into those positions, I know that I can score more goals and there are plenty more games still to come in the season.”
His return to form and fitness has led to calls for him to be called up by Gareth Southgate for the English national team in March. Ings is playing it cool when asked about a call up, but his former managers, current teammates and pundits are rallying behind the widely-loved striker who has been through tough times but has shown incredible mental strength to come out of it a better player.
“I would say we are all kind of different players in the way we play for our clubs and the way we have been over the course of our careers, really. Gareth will want a certain striker playing a certain way for him and it is all about what he wants,” Ings said. “The way I am in the system here at the club, it is all about pressing, running behind, not having too many touches on the ball. If that is something that is different to the other lads and how Gareth wants to set his team up, then yeah, I’d say it is definitely a different way for me.”
Playing for Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, Sean Dyche at Burnley, Brendan Rodgers and Klopp at Liverpool and now Hasenhuttl at Saints, the managers Ings have played for are very different and he thanks them all for developing his understanding of the game and all asking him to do different things. But the thing he has always done well is score goals. By the boatload.
Can he explain this glut of goals which has already culminated in his best-ever goalscoring season with 16 games of the season still to go? He has scored plenty of goals this season by sniffing around defenders, pouncing on mistakes and leading Saints’ now famed press under Hasenhuttl.
“It is hard to put my finger on that. Every game I want to try and create as many chances as I can and be in the right positions when the lads are providing. I go back to the momentum, momentum is key,” Ings said. “Any striker will tell you that when you are on a goal run you find yourself ending up in better positions to score goals, your focus is a lot stronger because you have the bug for scoring goals and trying to do the best you can for the team. That is the mindset I’ve been in this season. I am finding myself in great positions because the momentum is there and it is a hunger that we all have as goalscorers.”
Ings is in lethal form at the moment and you will not find one person across the Premier League who is unhappy about it. From his high-pressing to his finishing, plenty of the PL’s big boys will keep sniffing around Ings but he is keen to point out he is very happy at Southampton and isn’t thinking about anything else.
What is achievable for the rest of the season with Saints, a team who had just two wins on the board heading into late November but are now just three points off possible European qualification?
“For every club you want to achieve the maximum you can. We’ve put ourselves in a position now where we have gone further away from where we were and we are edging closer to the teams in and around those [European] places. For us, I feel like it is important we maintain our momentum,” Ings said. “Every game is so tough in the Premier League, you never know what’s going to happen. If we start thinking too far ahead, we might lose a little bit of the focus in the game that is coming at the weekend. You can see how hard the lads are working now to be the best team we can be. You can see how it is clicking and that is the way moving forward. If you look too far ahead you might lose a bit of focus and it is important we don’t do that.”
With Southampton’s fans signing his name loud and proud and hailing him as “one of our own” Ings is a happy man. Back at home, everybody wants to speak with him, everyone wants photos and everyone in the biggest city on England’s South Coast wants tickets to watch him play.
His goals and smiles have been one of the stories of the Premier League season so far as he pushes for the Golden Boot in the final months of the campaign. After his injuries and heartache in recent years, seeing Danny Ings back smiling, and scoring, is a beautiful sight for anybody who loves the beautiful game.
The fact he can now celebrate with his family by jumping on a boat and going fishing in Southampton Water hours after being the hero on the banks of the River Itchen is an added bonus. And one he clearly loves.
“We never spoke about revenge or something because to be honest we should be thankful for this result,” Hasenhuttl said. “We wanted to show everyone how we do much better.”
And how they are as they sit just three points off seventh place and possible European qualification.
Since conceding nine at home against Leicester they conceded just 11 times in their last 13 PL games, while Danny Ings has scored 10 goals in his last 11 games as their season has toally changed since that embarrassing mauling.
Speaking to the BBC after the game, Hasenhuttl also hailed the belief of his team throughout.
“Fantastic game today from both sides. A good feeling every second of this game that we could win here. It was maybe the best away performance from us this season,” Hasenhuttl said. “We played fantastically quick behind the lines. We had to be nervous until the end but we tried to press them high and keep them away from our goal. It was a fantastic game I think. It was a very important game for us in this season. We changed completely our mind and worked so hard to find a successful way and at the moment to see this team play enjoyable all the time.”
“We did everything we could to turn it around and we’ve done that and better. So proud of the team,” goalscoring hero Ings added. “We take each game as it comes. We have smiles on our faces, we are getting back to enjoying football. How we have been over Christmas and since then has been massive for us and the club moving forward and long may it continue. It speaks for itself, the work we do on the pitch, we did everything we could at that time to turn it round (after the 9-0 defeat to Leicester), it couldn’t have gone any better than that. I’m so proud of us as a team and how far we have come.”
Everybody connected with Southampton will never forget their 9-0 humiliation but beating Leicester not only proved how far they’ve come since that dark day just a few months, but also how far this team can go under Hasenhuttl.
Saints hit rock bottom and now they are marching on.
After spending last season on loan at Saints, the move became a $26 million permanent transfer from Liverpool in the summer and Ings was finally injury free and had a full preseason.
Speaking after the win at Villa to BBC Sport, Ings’ manager Ralph Hasenhuttl is delighted.
“Danny is fantastic at the moment, he’s absolutely outrageous at the moment and I’m very happy for him,” Hasenhuttl said.
As for the man of the moment, he praised the work the team is putting in as they’ve now won three of their last five games to bounce back after a tough start to the season.
“It is very, very important for us as a team, the fans and everyone at the club,” Ings told BBC Solent. “We didn’t start the season too strong but to come here and win the way we did today, that shows real promise for us as a team that we are working hard to turn all our mistakes from previous games into positives. Today we showed a proper professional performance.”
Ings’ comeback has been so impressive and he looks like he’s going to score every time he steps on the pitch right now. He was denied by the post and crossbar last week against West Ham, while he also scored a screamer which was ruled out due to a foul in the build-up, and he scored in his five games before he fired a blank against the Hammers.
Simply put, Ings is on fire. If he stayed fit, this was always likely to happen.
He is just the third player in Southampton’s history to hit double figures in a season before Christmas Day and he says it is all down to an intense offseason.
“It is great, it really is great, I worked extremely hard in the offseason,” Ings said. “Last year I couldn’t give as much as I wanted to due to fitness and things like that but this year I’ve worked really hard to get into the shape I’m in and every day, coming into training, for games, I am having fun. I am enjoying my football again. When I’m enjoying my football it brings out the best in me and I know there is still more to come and I’m going to work extremely hard to make sure I fulfil my potential here.”
Right now he looks certain to get a call-up for the England national team in March and although Gareth Southgate isn’t short of options in attack, Ings’ pace and ability to be in the right place at the right time is Jamie Vardy-esque. Vardy probably isn’t going to come out of retirement for EURO 2020, so Ings would be a great option for England.
Saints hope he will 1) stay fit and 2) keep scoring as they are now out of the relegation zone and three points clear of trouble ahead of a tough festive period with Tottenham, Crystal Palace and Liverpool up next.