Sofiane Boufal struggles but Southampton fans must keep the faith

When Sofiane Boufal lit up a drab EFL Cup tie against Sunderland with a stunning individual goal, there was a sense Southampton had found the next African superstar to take the Premier League by storm.

As the-then recently arrived club record signing plucked the ball beautifully from the sky before curling a thunderous strike into the top corner, St Mary's rose as one to welcome their new hero.

The home fans poured onto the streets purring at Boufal's brilliance and licking their lips at the prospect of what was to come from the former Lille winger.

Sadly for the mercurial Moroccan, that moment of magic remains a rare highlight in a season of unfulfilled promise, which has led to criticism from the stands and claims from manager Claude Puel the 23-year-old is suffering a confidence crisis.

Boufal's limp display after coming on as substitute in the 2-1 defeat at Tottenham prior to the international break was the last straw for some supporters, many of whom vented their spleen on social media.

But it is far too early to write off the most expensive purchase in Southampton's history as £21m dud, who cannot cut it in England.

Boufal has admitted he has struggled to come to terms with Premier League, telling reporters in his homeland he does not get the same protection from referees he was afforded in France.

He will not be the first or last foreign import who finds it hard to deal with the physical nature of the most demanding league in Europe. After all there are not too many Wes Morgan-type defenders plying their trade in Ligue 1.

Nor is Boufal alone in arriving from foreign shores with a big-money price tag, which inevitably comes with high expectations, and failing to deliver in their maiden season.

Even the great Cristiano Ronaldo was branded a show pony by some observers in his early weeks at Manchester United.

It is also worth remembering that when Boufal made the move across the Channel in August he was still recovering from the knee problem that had forced him to miss the back end of last season and delayed his debut until October.

Then, just as he was trying to get a foothold in the team, he was whisked away for international duty at the African Nations Cup, a tournament in which his participation was cut short by a fresh injury.

Those injury disruptions seem to have dented Boufal's self-belief, prompting Puel's comments over his mental state at his news conference ahead of Saturday's game at home to south coast neighbours Bournemouth.

But Puel remains convinced Boufal has the potential and all the raw ingredients to become one of the world's elite players and that is why he is standing by his man.

The French coach has experience of dealing with so-called troubled players and his arm around the shoulder technique helped revive Newcastle reject Hatem Ben Arfa's career at Nice last season.

He will be hoping that by publicly backing Boufal, the fans will do likewise and that will give him the freedom to express his undoubted talents.

The absence of in-form Italian hit-man Manolo Gabbiadini due to injuryagainst Bournemouth could give Boufal the chance to finally take centre stage.

It is likely though that Shane Long or Jay Rodriguez will be called upon instead, with Boufal once again an expensive onlooker from the bench.

But if he does get on towards the end of the game, getting on his back is the worst thing the home faithful can do, as Puel would no doubt be quick to point out.