Southampton forced to settle for stalemate in Israel

Date published: Thursday 29th September 2016 7:52

Southampton: Fail to win in Beer Sheva

Southampton: Fail to win in Beer Sheva

Hapoel Beer Sheva held Southampton to a goalless draw at the Turner Stadium on a tense night in Israel which may leave Claude Puel somewhat disappointed.

The draw does mean that both sides stay in the top two of the group, with Saints ahead on goal difference.

Virgil van Dijk had the best chance for the visitors early on in the game when he failed to convert a free header from close range that a beautiful James Ward-Prowse delivery had created.

Young midfielder Jake Hesketh started for Southampton but was replaced by Dusan Tadic in the 35th minute in what is believed to be a tactical decision.

The hosts are yet to lose there since the stadium opened in September 2015, playing 23 competitive fixtures, and sit second behind Group K leaders Saints, with both teams on four points from two games.

Manager Claude Puel gambled by resting captain Jose Fonte, top scorer Charlie Austin, Ryan Bertrand and Steven Davis, but in their absence they drew where Celtic lost 2-0 in August, and against a team who two weeks ago won at Inter Milan, Southampton’s next opponents.

In only the fourth minute, Virgil van Dijk – deputising as captain – wasted a fine chance to give the visitors the lead.

From a right-wing free-kick, Matt Targett delivered an outswinging cross that left the central defender with both time and space to head at goal. Under minimal pressure, however, he sent the ball harmlessly over the crossbar.

If that played on his mind as Hapoel began to demonstrate the qualities that inspired that surprise 2-0 victory at Inter, it did not show.

The hosts’ athleticism and movement – both strikers and wingers frequently attempted to stretch Southampton’s defence – created numerous chances, but the impressive Van Dijk repeatedly denied them.

Having already taken the power off one shot with a deflection, he sprinted back to dispossess Hapoel’s Ben Bitton just as he broke into a goalscoring position. In the 28th minute he anticipated another threatening through ball which he reached first to clear.

An inability to retain possession, particularly in the final third in the absence of Austin’s physicality, clearly frustrated Puel.

He responded by substituting the ineffective Jake Hesketh, 20, after only 35 minutes and replacing him with the more proven Dusan Tadic.

Little changed before half-time, but their start to the second half was more promising.

Fine work on the left wing from Shane Long led to a 50th-minute shooting opportunity for James Ward-Prowse, who from the edge of the area struck powerfully towards the bottom-left corner, where goalkeeper David Goresh dived to save.

It was in the 65th minute, by which point no other notable chances had been created in a game that appeared destined to end goalless, that Hapoel produced their greatest threat.

A classy move of one-touch football split Southampton’s defence and put captain Maor Melikson through on goal. His fierce drive whistled just wide of the left-hand upright.

Six minutes later, Maya Yoshida’s unconvincing clearance gifted John Ogu space to shoot but he comfortably missed the target.

It was to be the game’s last chance, but on an evening where Sparta Prague defeated Inter 3-1 in the group’s other fixture, a point appeared positive for each.

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