REPORT: Southampton 2-1 QPR
Hard-working Saints earned their fourth consecutive league win with a 2-1 success over Queens Park Rangers at St Mary’s.
The squad had turned down the offer of a day off from training this week to best prepare themselves for this potential banana skin of a meeting with the recently promoted side who showed resilience to a spirited home team.
That extra practice from Saints ultimately paid off though, with all three goals coming in the second-half of a battling contest as Koeman’s men twice took the lead either side of Charlie Austin’s obligatory goal against them.
Ryan Bertrand’s first goal for the club opened the scoring on 54 minutes when he finished off Sadio Mané’s impressive assist on the Senegalese star’s home debut. Austin’s surprise 66th minute effort drew the visitors level, before Graziano Pellè’s brilliantly-taken fifth strike of the season moments later, secured the second home win of the season.
Saints were without James Ward-Prowse and Maya Yoshida, but Toby Alderweireld returned from injury with Alderweireld reclaiming his position in the starting eleven at the expense of Florin Gardos.
The only other change from midweek saw Ryan Bertrand take up the left back spot in place of Matt Targett, which meant there was a home debut for Senegalese international Sadio Mané in a front three with Tadić and Pellè.
Koeman’s team sought a fast start to the contest in a similar vein to their previous game here against Newcastle, but despite plenty of invention from the hosts, they endured a stop-start opening 45 minutes.
There was further frustration when the visitors were forced into an early change as midfield enforcer Sandro came off worst in a collision of heads with Mané on halfway. After a couple of minutes receiving treatment, the R’s man was replaced by Karl Henry, with Rangers making a like-for-like change.
Saints did create a few openings with the front three of Tadić, Mané and Pellè all linking up to good effect, creating one of their better efforts on 19 minutes when Tadić’s shot inside the box from Pellè’s knock down took a deflection of Steven Caulker and bounced onto the post.
Moments later, Pellè struck a shot into the side-netting, and then Mané saw a deflected strike rise up into the arms of a grateful Robert Green as the hosts still couldn’t force a way through.
Rangers were yet to test Fraser Forster at the other end, but did create chances through Matt Phillips and Niko Kranjcar, who each struck shots high and wide.
Saints’ best chance of the half though came in the closing stages when Schneiderlin combined with Mané to receive the ball inside the area where he rolled a shot just wide of the far post.
A strong opening to the second 45 was expected, and following a persistent spell of pressure from the hosts, Saints grabbed the lead on 54 minutes.
Just prior to the goal, Mané had cut in from the left to have a low shot which Green gathered, but the R’s goalkeeper could do nothing about the next move, which saw Mané superbly backheel the ball into the area, where Ryan Bertrand ran on to meet it and smash a low strike under the body of Green for 1-0.
Saints turned the screw, with Tadić having the final effort after another fine team move, which resulted in the ball being pushed over the bar for a corner. The resulting set-piece drew a further opportunity, with Wanyama’s near-post header saved on the line, and the rebound stabbed just wide by Pellè on the floor.
It was therefore somewhat out of the blue when Rangers got back on level terms in the 66th minute. Having reached the edge of the Saints area, Vargas sent in a fierce cross which was expertly controlled by Austin who then on the turn, smashed home a stunning equaliser.
Parity was restored for all of two minutes though before Saints regained their lead. Shane Long’s first touch since arriving as a substitute saw him cross from the right, over to the left side of the area where Tadić nodded it down into the path of Pellè, who took one touch before acrobatically volleying a shot over Green for an outstanding goal.
With their tails up, Saints searched for a third, with Davis hitting the bar from distance, before he then threaded a fine throughball for Long to go one-v-one on Green, but the keeper was equal to it.
In an end-to-end finale, there was a late scare for the hosts with Kranjcar rattling the frame of Forster’s goal from a direct set-piece and Caulker heading the rebound over, but Saints also tested Robert Green’s nerves with a set-piece from similar range, which dropped just wide.
Tadić was the width of the post away from making it 3-1 when he burst into the area and hit a rising shot at the near post. That was the Serbian’s last action of the match before he was subbed off, with Saints doing enough to see off the late rally by the visitors to take all three points.
Southampton team: Fraser Forster, Nathaniel Clyne, José Fonte (c), Toby Alderweireld, Ryan Bertrand, Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama (Jack Cork 69), Steven Davis, Dušan Tadić (Matt Targett 90), Sadio Mané (Shane Long 67), Graziano Pellè
Unused substitutes: Kelvin Davis, Jason McCarthy, Harrison Reed, Emmanuel Mayuka
Booked: Clyne (26), Mané (33)
Goals: Bertrand (54), Pellè (68)
QPR team: Robert Green, Armand Traore, Steven Caulker, Rio Ferdinand (c), Mauricio Isla, Matt Phillips (Junior Holiett 58), Sandro (Karl Henry 11), Leroy Fer, Niko Kranjcar, Eduardo Vargas (Bobby Zamora 77), Charlie Austin
Unused substitutes: Alex McCarthy, Clint Hill, Nedum Onuoha, Richard Dunne
Booked: Henry (30)
Goal: Austin (66)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Attendance: 30,504 (including 2,847 away)