Ronald Koeman believes Southampton can make a late dash for Champions League qualification but says they must win their next two away matches.
Southampton travel to Everton on Saturday before a trip to struggling Aston Villa a week later and six points could fire Koeman’s side back into contention for the top four.
Saints currently sit seventh in the table and seven points behind Manchester City, who also have a game in hand, but recent form would suggest fourth place is not quite out of reach. They have reached 50 points for the third successive season despite extensive sales.
Only defeat to Leicester has prevented them taking maximum points from their last four matches and Koeman believes the next two games could prove pivotal.
“It’s true we have stayed close to them (the top four) but if we show a better away form then we can do it,” Koeman said.
“That’s the difference between our home games and our away games. We need to improve. If we can win both our away games we will have a good end of the season for sure.”
European football looks beyond Everton, whose bid to challenge the elite has been undermined by poor performances at Goodison Park.
Roberto Martinez’s side have the fourth best away record in the division but if the league was decided on results at home, the Toffees would be 19th.
“They have had a good away run but found it difficult at home,” Koeman said.
“If you start the game well maybe the home crowd isn’t so supportive as normal. I still think the manager is doing a good job.
“How they like to play good football, the shape of the team – they still have a chance to win a title. They have a semi-final against Manchester United at Wembley and it’s a great chance for them to play in an FA Cup final.
“But it is true the team look more comfortable away than at home. When we played them at home they had very good organisation, defensively very strong, very fast and good counter attack.
“At home you need to play more open and attack more and maybe you get punished more by the opponent when you leave spaces to play.”
Charlie Austin will miss the match after twisting his knee in the warm-up against Newcastle last weekend.
Austin joined Southampton from QPR in January but injuries have restricted the forward to only two starts for the club so far.
“I am not worried but he is a bit unlucky,” Koeman said.
“He twisted his knee before the Newcastle game. there is no damage to his ligaments, he will maybe be out for one more week.
“He needs game time to get to his level and he is very frustrated. That is normal, he is new at the club and he wants to show his quality.
“Every time he gets an injury it is a step back and it makes it difficult.”