Southampton had hopes of welcoming in a new era under Mauricio Pellegrino but this stalemate at home to Swansea City felt all too familiar. They had a stupendous total of 28 shots on goal but just the two were on target. Playing at St Mary’s has been Southampton’s achilles heel for too long, all of last season in fact, and this was a record sixth successive home league match without scoring in front of their own supporters.
The lack of goals did little to prevent the Southampton manager’s first competitive match in charge being overshadowed by those missing parties. Virgil van Dijk, the Saints captain, and Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Swansea midfielder, were both absent, as question marks continue to loom over their immediate futures. Swansea were totally devoid of any creativity but dug deep to eke out a point of this entertaining but ultimately fruitless goalless draw.
There was a swell of anticipation at a sold-out St Mary’s about a new era under Pellegrino while before kick-off there was a touching tribute to the former Southampton owner, Markus Liebherr, with last Thursday the seventh anniversary of his passing.
Pellegrino, who stalked his technical area in a grey club tracksuit, picked a familiar Saints starting lineup. There was only one change from the Southampton team that started against Stoke City in May – Claude Puel’s final match in charge – with Manolo Gabbiadini preferred to Charlie Austin in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Both of Pellegrino’s summer signings, Mario Lemina and Jan Bednarek, started life at Southampton on the bench. Paul Clement, meanwhile, handed Tammy Abraham his full Swansea and Premier League debut, with Fernando Llorente absent with a broken arm.
Southampton flew out of the blocks, with Dusan Tadic forcing a corner inside 45 seconds. Ryan Bertrand’s resulting ball in was met by the striker Gabbiadini, whose header grazed the frame of Lukasz Fabianski’s goal. Tadic himself could have opened the scoring three minutes later but his effort inside the six-yard box from Bertrand’s low cross was wayward.
Abraham, the 19-year-old Chelsea loanee, was a constant outlet for Swansea and enjoyed a good tussle with Jack Stephens. He got the better of the Southampton defender, and his England under-21s team-mate, to head narrowly wide after 10 minutes. Swansea, though, were penned in for much of a first half dominated by the hosts. After the break, Abraham again went close, luring Maya Yoshida to go to ground before swivelling away and shooting just wide of Fraser Forster’s goal.
Puel’s ultimate undoing was Southampton’s home form last term, in which they scored just 17 league goals here. And while Saints seemed to have rediscovered their buzz under Pellegrino, the Argentine was left scratching his head as his side wasted chance after chance. The lack of conviction against a vulnerable Swansea backline was painful, verging on comical. James Ward-Prowse was guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net, by which point Swansea had 10 bodies defending in the box. He was, though, just one of several Saints culprits. On the brink of half-time, Ward-Prowse vented his frustrations on Martin Olsson, sending the Swansea left-back tumbling over the advertising hoardings beneath the away supporters after a brisk shoulder barge.
With Southampton’s tally of shots well into double figures with nothing to show for it, Pellegrino summoned Austin in place of Gabbiadini after 68 minutes. Then entered Sofiane Boufal, in place of Ward-Prowse, as Southampton stepped up the search for a winner. Tadic then let fly from distance, before Yoshida spurned another great opening. Steven Davis’ whipped cross was helped on by Oriol Romeu but lurking at the back post was not Austin, but the Japanese defender who headed over. Swansea retreated deeper and deeper, with Abraham substituted to boos from the away supporters as defender Kyle Bartley was brought on to shut up shop. By the end, Yoshida was curling free-kicks wide of goal and Cédric Soares blasting wide from distance.
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