Southampton 1 - 1 Hapoel Beer Sheva: Southampton crash out of Europe after sluggish home display



Posted Friday, December 09, 2016 by PA

Toothless Southampton bungled the chance for their best continental run since 1977 after Israeli minnows Hapoel Be'er Sheva forced a 1-1 Europa League draw at St Mary's.

The limp hosts only needed a goalless draw to progress to the last 32 of Europe's second-tier competition, but Oriol Romeu's mistake let Hapoel progress instead.

Forward Maor Buzaglo angled home the vital goal that guided Hapoel to the knockout stages in their very first Europa League campaign.

Virgil van Dijk scrambled Saints an equaliser in added time - but Hapoel claimed second place in Group K, owing to the away goal that secured a superior head-to-head with Saints.

Southampton paid the price for botching a host of half-chances, crashing out of the competition to a team with an annual estimated wage bill of just B£10million.

Hapoel landed Israel's league title for the first time in 40 years last season, and carried their own fairytale story to another level on England's south coast.

Saints boss Claude Puel was left fuming with his ineffective side, who compounded their 3-0 Premier League loss at Crystal Palace with another lacklustre loss.

Puel insisted heading into the tie that Southampton could ill afford to be distracted by Jose Fonte's long-term future amid rumours the Portugal defender could leave in January.

On this evidence Saints have far greater concerns than retaining Fonte's services - namely quite how to bind a disjointed and sluggish midfield in order to unearth some goals.

Throw in the fact that nine-goal leading scorer Charlie Austin suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder, and the night could hardly have fared any worse for Saints.

Sluggish transition passing and ineffective midfield positioning weighed Saints down in a low-quality first half.

Austin twice lost his marker at corners, but failed to trouble goalkeeper David Goresh with either header.

Austin nodded the second effort wide, and then landed in a heap on his right side. The 27-year-old's night was over, with a suspected dislocated shoulder.

Genuine goalscoring chances proved few and far between in a meagre opening gambit, with Josh Sims at least hitting the target with a tame back-header.

Nathan Redmond had a 20-yard strike palmed away with ease, having failed to spot the overlapping Ryan Bertrand in acres of space.

Saints' blunt instruments remained off-kilter after the break, Van Dijk unable to pounce on a loose ball in the box and Pierre Hojbjerg blasting an overly-ambitious volley into the stands.

Shane Long's movement added a modicum of zip to Saints, but the Republic of Ireland striker still squandered a fine chance.

The 29-year-old spun off his marker to meet Bertrand's low first-time cross on the run at the near post - only to flick the ball the wrong side of the post.

Replacement Dusan Tadic had a deflected shot headed clear by Ben Bitton just past the hour as Saints continued to press.

And Van Dijk wasted another fine opening by failing to connect with Redmond's corner when totally unmarked in the six-yard box.

Just when Saints expected to close out the tie and progress to the next round however, disaster struck.

Romeu gifted Yuval Shabtai the ball on the edge of Saints' area, and the Hapoel replacement provided the pivotal assist with his first touch of the ball.

Buzaglo steadied himself on the edge of the area and drove his low shot past Fraser Forster.

Saints finally rallied, with Van Dijk prodding home a scrambled equaliser in added time. Maya Yoshida even had time to waste another glorious chance, heading wide.

So despite the last-gasp rally, Saints still exited Europe with little more than a whimper.



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