The question on the lips of many Southampton supporters as Joe Aribo’s made his first Premier League start of 2023 – during Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace – was ‘why?’

What had the former Rangers ace done to deserve a starting spot – at centre-forward no less – ahead of a man in Sekou Mara who finally opened his top-flight account just seven days earlier. Ahead of a man in Paul Onuachu who, prior to his £18 million January arrival at St Marys, had scored more goals than anyone else in Belgium’s top flight.

It’s not as if Aribo justified his selection either. Whether Onuachu or Mara would have made more of a clever corner routine which ended with a ball falling at Aribo’s feet inside the penalty area is anyone’s guess.

Eintracht Frankfurt v Rangers FC - UEFA Europa League Final 2021/22
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

But, after just two goals in 26 Southampton appearances, the reaction from a disillusioned home support was one of baleful resignation as the Nigeria international lashed hopelessly over the bar and high into the stands.

“His first Premier League start of 2023 after being frozen out of the picture for months,” the Hampshire Live said at full-time of a man who cost Southampton £6 million when he arrived from Rangers last summer.

“Got on the end of a corner routine inside 15 minutes but fired over. Failed to offer much thereafter and you have to wonder why he was starting.


Joe Aribo in danger of relegation with Southampton after Rangers exit

In fairness to Ruben Selles, Southampton’s third coach of a tumultuous campaign, Aribo does have something approaching a track record when it comes to leading the line. He did so effectively during Rangers’ stirring Europa League run last season, after all; opening the scoring in the final against Sevilla with Alfredo Morelos unavailable.

“Joe Aribo played as a striker in the final of the Europa League,” Selles tells Hampshire Live. “So that’s why we chose him today to play in those spaces. And I think he helped us a lot in many different phases of the game.

“I saw what I want. I saw a player that was in the front. (Who) was making a big effort with his physicality and playing in between the lines.”

On the other hand, bringing in a man who hadn’t started a single league game in nearly four months, playing him at centre-forward instead of calling upon more natural striking options, does not exactly smack of a coach with a clear plan. Aribo’s re-introduction to the starting XI for the first time since December felt more like a desperate last throw of the dice from a man who appears unable to coax any sort of consistency out of his Championship-bound squad. A coach lobbing darts at a dartboard and hoping to blag a bullseye.

Aribo, when swapping Rangers for Southampton, may have hoped to follow in the footsteps of fellow Old Firm exports Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk. Instead, while Rangers play Champions league football in 2023/24, Aribo could be stuck in the Championship.

The grass, as they say, is not always greener elsewhere. Aribo is finding that out the hard way south of Hadrian’s Wall.

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