Europa League Group K
(Charlie Austin x2, Jay Rodriguez)
Sparta Prague 0
St Mary’s Stadium
By far the biggest crowd I have been a part of this season, and some may argue the biggest game of my 2016/17 adventure so far. European football, under the lights (we will forget that it’s a Thursday) but it is what dreams are made of.
This isn’t my first taste of the Europa League (admitting that I am yet to see a Champions League game live). Last season the Saints had a pretty poor attempt at getting into the group stage and I was present for their home encounters with Vitesse and FC Midtjylland in the early part of last season.
Stretching my mind back further, I was also present for all the home matches of Stoke City’s 2011/12 Europa League campaign with qualifying games against Hajduk Split and FC Thun before entering a group including Besiktas, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Dynamo Kyiv before eventually being knocked out to Valencia in the Round of 32.
Despite eight previous Europa League encounters, I was very much excited for this one and the Group K bundle ticket price with all three home games for less than £40 I was over the moon.
Joining me on my ‘European adventure’ this season is one of my colleagues and good friends Chris who has kindly sorted out the tickets, getting us up the corner on row C completely engulfed in the action and very close to the rowdy Southampton faithful behind the goal.
Another trip to St Mary’s is always a pleasant one, losing count of how many games I have seen since moving to the city four years ago. (A quick count and its just over 40 visits I believe).
For my comments on St Mary’s please head over to my report from my first visit this season ‘Travelling To- Southampton’ from the beginning of August.
A Charlie Austin brace secured Southampton’s first Europa League group stage win with a 3-0 victory over last season’s ePojisteni.cz Liga runner-up Sparta Prague. Substitute Jay Rodriguez tapped home a late third to put Saints top of Group K after one round of games.
Saints were handed a dream start inside five minutes when Costa Nhamoinesu deemed to have handballed Austin’s cross. The referee had looked to give a corner but about 20 seconds past and he pointed to the spot following consultation with the official behind the goal. Austin and team mate Dusan Tadic spent what seemed like an age arguing over who should take the set piece before captain Virgil Van Dijk had to go and sort out the squabble. Former Poole Town striker Austin stepped up and fired into the bottom corner, despite Tomas Koubek guessing the right way.
Saints were in the ascendency and Austin was causing all sorts of problems, proving to manager Claude Puel why he should be starting more often as Koubek had to be alert to save from the striker from James Ward-Prowse’s free kick.
Austin then had the ball in the net for a second time on 26 minutes when he met Cuco Martina’s cross with a diving header, however the linesman had his flag up for offside.
Less than a minute later it was déjà vu as Austin this time managed to stay onside to head in his second of the night following a clever cross from Martina
Southampton took a fairly comfortable lead into the break with Prague struggling to produce any sort of positive play in the opening 45 minutes.
The second half continued in similar fashion and Tadic had a great chance to get on the score sheet but Koubek held on to the shot.
David Lafata had Prague’s first real attempt on goal in the 68th minute but Fraser Forster was alert to push away the long-range effort.
The introduction of Nathan Redmond and Jay Rodriguez gave the Southampton attack some fresh legs as the home side didn’t expend too much energy going forward to preserve their lead.
Tough tackling midfielder Oriol Romeu was lucky to stay on the pitch after picking up a yellow card for a late challenge on Michal Sacek. The Spaniard seemed to have a mad few minutes throwing himself around before he was replaced by Steven Davis.
Shane Long, who was in desperate need for a goal following his early season form, fired one high as the game came to a close following some good work on the left flank from defender Matt Targett.
But Saints did manage to add a third late into stoppage time when an effective break forward involving Davis and Long and it was former Hull striker Long who played a neat low ball into Rodriguez in the box to side foot into the corner of the net from 12 yards.
2016/17 Games: 29
2016/17 Grounds: 28
Total Grounds Visited: 167