Wasteful Southampton crash out of Europa League to Israeli champions
Home team scorers Virgil van Dijk 90 +0:33
Away team scorers Maor Bar Buzaglo 78
Southampton players show their disappointment after going out of the Europa League following a 1-1 draw with Hapoel Be’er Sheva at St Mary’s
Southampton’s European adventure came to an abrupt end on Thursday night at the hands of Hapoel Be’er Sheva, the Israeli champions, who dumped Claude Puel’s side out of the Europa League group stages to reach the round of 32 at their expense.
Southampton were tepid throughout, edging towards a goalless draw that would have seen them through until, with the visitors’ first shot of the evening on target, Maor Buzaglo drilled an effort low beyond the goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, after 78 minutes.
Only then did the hosts truly rally, with Virgil van Dijk poking home an equaliser in injury time, but it was inadequate on a disappointing night for Puel, who witnessed his side limp out of the competition on head-to-head record.
“Tonight it’s difficult to find a good word. It’s a big disappointment for the club, the fans and the players also,” the Southampton manager said. “It’s difficult to accept this result with just one chance and one goal for this team, but it’s football and now it’s important to look forward.
“We need to come back with a good spirit and it’s a strong challenge now to give a good answer. Many teams are eliminated and come back with a strong spirit. It’s disappointing for the staff and players, we were ambitious for this competition and now our mission is in the Premier League.”
Southampton have now managed only four goals in six matches and against Hapoel they paid for their profligacy.
Puel made three changes from the 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday, one of which was to replace the captain José Fonte with Maya Yoshida. As a result the Portuguese, who helped his country win Euro 2016 in the summer, has not featured for Southampton in the Europa League this season.
Fonte, who turns 33 this month, has 18 months to run on his current contract and the club do not have plans to offer him a new one.
The defender held in high regard by Southampton supporters, though, and the Northam Stand took all of 155 seconds to sing the name of their leader. Hapoel, too, were without their captain, Elyaniv Barda. Another fans favourite, Maor Melikson, in his second spell with the Israeli champions, was also missing.
Hapoel are a team predominantly made up of free transfers and cut-price signings, including Ben Sahar, the former Chelsea and Portsmouth striker. Nicknamed the Camels, they are 10 points clear of Maccabi Tel Aviv at the top of their domestic league after clinching their first Israeli title for 40 years last season.
Unsurprisingly, then, the Hapoel manager, Barak Bakhar, at 37, is regarded as something of a prodigy by the club’s supporters, even more so after guiding the club past the group stages in a European competition for the first time in their history.
Southampton started brightly and dominated large spells of the first half. Inside two minutes Nathan Redmond’s corner was met by Charlie Austin, whose header was comfortably gathered by David Goresh, the Hapoel goalkeeper. Redmond then shot from distance before his pace left the visitors defenders flummoxed, running with the ball from his own half, but his cross from the byline was a little too high for the leaping Austin, who was later withdrawn with a shoulder injury.
Southampton were forced to settle for glimpses at goal and it was Buzaglo who squandered the best opportunity in a fairly tame half. A deep cross by Mihaly Korhut evaded both Van Dijk and Yoshida, allowing the unmarked Hapoel striker to get in a shot at the back post. It was much the same after the break, with the substitute Shane Long, who replaced Austin, next to puff out his cheeks, after failing to guide a fine low cross by Ryan Bertrand goalwards.
Van Dijk headed wide once more and as the game crept towards full-time, Oriol Romeu was urged to shoot at goal in an attempt to put the home supporters out of their misery. But it was about to get much worse when Yuval Shabtay picked out Buzaglo, who found the net with a low drive.
Only after going behind did Southampton display the urgency required, with Van Dijk eventually poking home an equaliser. The giant Dutchman charged forward again during injury-time in search of a winner, as did Yoshida, who climbed highest to head millimetres wide with seconds remaining.
In the end Southampton were left to ponder what might have been. As for Hapoel, they once again are breaking new ground. The club’s very presence on the European circuit was proudly represented by more than 1000 travelling fans, who will doubtless enjoy the 3,700km trip back to the dusty city of Beersheba.
“We did a big thing – there’s no question about that. We played our game and we knew eventually we would get a chance to score,” Bakhar said. “We believed from the off that we could do it.”