Southampton were their own undoing on a European stage that had shown promising signs for Claude Puel’s men, in a game otherwise mediocre if not for the two late goals. The Saints found themselves in a position where a goalless draw or an outright win would guarantee progression to the next stage of the Europa league, whereas a loss or a score-draw would see Hapoel Beer Sheeva through alongside group winners Sparta Prague.
While the Premier League side had the majority portion of possession in the 1st half, they showed little intent or desire to feed the ball through to the final third and put the 15/16 Israeli Champions on the back foot. Charlie Austin’s lack of pace was exposed by the defensive midfield who cut out most of his reception, and his replacement in the second half, through injury, by the pacey Irishman Shane Long added more potential to the Saints’ occasional attacking threats. Nathan Redmond’s curled strike was the closest to an end product that either team could muster in a forgettable first half of European football.
It seemed clear going into the final 30 minutes that Puel had set out to secure progression through a goalless draw which no fan wants to witness regardless of whether it may favour their respective team. However, up until the 78th minute the dull strategy had paid off, but when the away side finally logged their first shot on target, it was an inch-perfect drive from the edge of the box by Maor Barzaglo that beat the helpless Frazer Forster at his far post.
The addition of Dusan Tadic added a creative flair that Southampton had desperately lacked, but it was too little too late. Captain Virgil Van Dijk’s 91st minute equaliser, a deflected effort catching the Hapoel’s keeper off balance, wasn’t enough to secure the Saints’ progression. Shane Long almost headed a second home soon after kick-off but it wasn’t to be, meaning that the away side recorded a historic feats reaching the second stage of a European competition for the first time in their history.
While the South Coast side were lacking key quality in the form of Jose Fonte and Tadic for the large part of the game, disappointment stemmed from a lack of offensive decisiveness and a failure to show any clinical quality worthy of the side that finished 6th in the BPL last year. Fans were vocal in their displeasure, but not as vocal as the BDS contingent outside the stadium, clearly angry that the club were hosting an Israeli side. Regardless, it is safe to say that it was a night to remember for the traveling supporters, who showed clear delight at the final whistle.