A second half strike from Aras Ozbiliz was enough to see Ajax beat Saints in a pre-season warm up match.
Nigel Adkins’ men were given a strong test by their opponents, but can be pleased with the work they put in against the Dutch Champions, who wrapped up their slender win just past the hour mark.
The goal from Ozbiliz was a touch of class as he stepped in from the left to wrap a shot past Kelvin Davis, and it proved to be enough to record another win on British soil for the Dutch side who also saw off Celtic the previous week.
Saints gave a good account of themselves, and despite a goalless first hour or so of the match, they could certainly consider themselves the brighter of the two teams.
The goal was followed by a flurry of substitutions, but the performance will have heartened Adkins who has plenty more match time to formalise his plans for the new campaign.
Saints: Davis (Gazzaniga 70), Clyne (Richardson 46), Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox (Shaw 70), Schneiderlin (Hammond 79), Ward-Prowse (Chaplow 79), Lallana (Puncheon 79), Guly (Chambers 84), Rodriguez (De Ridder 84), Lambert (Sharp 70). Subs (not used): Stephens, Seaborne.
Ajax: Vermeer, Alderweireld, Anita, Sigthorsson, De Jong, Janssen, Blind, Boerrigter (Fischer 46), Ozbiliz, Van Rhijn, Dijks. Subs (not used): Cillessen, Klaassen, Serero, Koppera, Lukoki, Ligeon, Schone,Veltman, Denswil.
Referee: Mr. L. Probert
Saints named an attacking side which lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Guly, Lambert, and Rodriguez spearheading the attack.
Eleven substitutes were also listed for the hosts who had Steve De Ridder return to the squad after injury.
Saints got the match started with James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez taking to the centre circle for kick-off towards the Northam stand.
It was the visitors though who made early inroads looking to attack down the left side, but Nathaniel Clyne twice stood up against the pace and strength of Ajax forward Derk Borrigter in the opening minutes of the game.
Nigel Adkins’ men were composed on the break and some neat interplay from Lallana, Rodriguez and Lambert gave Ajax’s rigid looking defence something to think about.
A brief interruption to the match following a knock taken by Morgan Schneiderlin preceded another swift move from the home side.
An arrowed pass through midfield from Hooiveld released Lallana, who worked the ball out to Fox on the left. The full back’s cross into the area almost fell perfectly for Lambert, but the striker was unable to get his shot away as the ball was cleared from his path in the nick of time.
Saints continued to look bright moving forward with Ward-Prowse playing a perfectly weighted pass towards Guly into the final third, but the Brazilian’s cross aimed for Lambert was well dealt with by the visitors.
The hosts had the ball in the back of the net on 26 minutes when Guly played Rodriguez into the area, but the flag had long been raised by the time that the former Burnley man had slotted home into the bottom corner past Kenneth Vermeer.
Three minutes later Lambert tried an audacious strike from range which almost caught Vermeer napping as the striker went close to embarrassing the ‘keeper with a thumping shot.
The signs remained positive for Saints with Clyne coming into his own on the right hand side as he constantly worked the channel, also cutting in to impressive effect to supply Ward-Prowse who was blocked by Vermeer as he went to meet the full back’s cross.
Ajax skipper Siem De Jong blasted his strike from distance high into the Chapel stand with the Dutch side’s creativity seemingly stifled by Adkins’ men despite their strong opening to the contest.
There was some further pressure from the hosts towards the end of the half with more crisp passing leading to chances for Guly, who smashed an effort wide of the right post after cutting in, and then Lambert’s fierce near post shot which deflected off Toby Alderweireld and narrowly past the upright, but the match remained goalless going into the interval.
Half Time: Saints 0-0 Ajax
There was one substitution apiece with Viktor Fischer replacing Boerrigter for Ajax and Frazer Richardson coming on for Clyne.
Saints were quickly out of the traps in the second period with Guly immediately finding some room on the right to cross for Lallana, whose airshot unfortunately rebounded off Rodriguez and dropped out of play.
On 52 Lallana’s high and arching corner delivery was headed goalwards by Lambert, but Vermeer was equal to it.
Chances continued to come for the hosts with Lallana unfortunate not to finish his hard work as he skilfully jinked his way into the area from the right before a challenge came in from an Ajax defender.
The deadlock was eventually broken in the 64th minute though with the gal going the way of the visitors when Aras OZBILIZ was allowed time to cut in on the left of the area before striking home into the far corner out of Davis’ reach.
And a vital interception from Jos Hooiveld two minutes after that goal denied Kolbeinn Sigthorsson a tap in as Saints weathered a storm.
Saints responded with a triple substitution as Fox, Davis, and Lambert were withdrawn as Shaw, Gazzaniga, and Sharp entered the action on 70 minutes.
The latter ought to have levelled things up less than two minutes after his introduction as Schneiderlin played a clever chip over the Ajax backline, but Sharp couldn’t find the angle he wanted to score from as Vermeer smothered the striker’s advances.
At the other end, Gazzaniga denied Ozbiliz’s rising shot from the edge of the area as the ‘keeper took no time at all to settle into his new surroundings.
In another treble switch on 79 minutes Saints brought on Dean Hammond, Jason Puncheon, and Richard Chaplow in place of Schneiderlin, Lallana, and Ward-Prowse.
A weak clearance from Gazzaniga fell invitingly for Ozbiliz again on 80 but this time the goalscorer was unable to get his shot on target, as Saints’ sub ‘keeper recovered to get back on his line in time.
The final changes form the home side saw Steve De Ridder and Calum Chambers introduced for the last six minutes or so, with Guly and Rodriguez departing.
All of the changes left Saints with a fresh set of attacking players, but no further chances of note were created as the hosts were narrowly defeated by the Dutch title holders.
Full Time: Saints 0-1 Ajax