20/08/2015: Saints 1-1 FC Midtjylland
Saints will need to score at least one goal in Denmark next week if they are to progress to the group stage of the Europa League. Ronald Koeman's side performed better than they did in the previous fixture against Everton, squandering plenty of good chances.
Koeman rectified Saints' defensive deficiencies by including Oriol Romeu in a defensive midfield role in place of Steven Davis. Both he and Victor Wanyama regularly dropped deep to support the back four. The opening 15 minutes of the game were quite open. Just as Vitesse did in their first leg, Midtylland almost caught Saints out inside the first few minutes. Maarten Stekelenburg eventually gathered after some confusion inside the penalty area.
Saints had a number of opportunities to take an early lead. Jay Rodriguez outmuscled a defender, before shooting hopelessly wide as he went through on goal. Mane then shot straight at the keeper from just outside the area. Steven Caulker's looping header went just past the post on 10. Midtylland were neat and tidy on the ball, but spent most of the game sitting back, only breaking occasionally. Petter Andersson shot wide on 15.
Saints' attacking play wasn't always easy on the eye. There were far too many long, rushed balls up to Graziano Pelle. Stekelenburg made a save which was not quite as impressive as it appeared on first viewing on 24. Romeu's speculative 25th minute effort wasn't too far off. Midtylland did well to limit Saints during the last 15 minutes or so of the first-half. Romeu had another go from distance, before the visitors hit Saints with a counter punch right on half-time. Former Saints academy product Tim Sparv took aim from about 25 yards in acres of space, shooting low into the corner of the net.
Saints showed some urgency at the start of the second-half. Pelle had a deflected shot go wide before the hosts had a goal ruled out from the resulting corner. Caulker climbed over a defender before heading in. Fortunately Saints would be presented with another opportunity to level the scoring just a few moments later when they were awarded a penalty. James Ward-Prowse was tripped after taking down Pelle's knock-down. After a nervous wait Rodriguez stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way.
Midtylland cranked up the timewasting tactics during the last 30 minutes, doing everything they could to try and take the sting out of the game. Saints continued to huff and puff. Caulker connected well with Ward-Prowse's free-kick, but was denied by the acrobatics of the keeper. Matt Targett pulled a shot just wide of the post on 75. Ward-Prowse came very close from a free-kick. Finally, Maya Yoshida smashed the ball against the post after climbing up high to head Targett's cross.
Still lots of work for Koeman to do based on this performance. Defensively the team was better, but going forward there was still a lack of rhythm and fluidity. On the other hand, Saints could have easily won about 4-1 had they taken some of the very good chances they were presented with. 1-1 at home is a poor result, but Saints still have more than enough quality to see the tie out. Midtylland were tactically astute, but player for player they aren't as good as Saints. For all their faults, Koeman's side still managed to create plenty of chances. If they do the same next week, you'd like to think they'd put a few more of them away.
Stekelenburg: 6. Made a few good saves
Yoshida: 6. A few dodgy moments, but overall an improvement on recent outings. Used his skill well
Fonte: 6. Distribution a bit off. Looked uncharacteristically awkward at times
Caulker: 6. A threat in the air at both ends of the pitch. Just needs to get out of the habit of hoofing it so much
Targett: 6. Some disappointing early delivery, but improved as the game went on. Not troubled too much defensively
Romeu: 6. Always showing for the ball. Not everything he tried came off, but usually had the right idea. A good variety of passing
Wanyama: 6. A few heavy passes, but a decent defensive contribution
Ward-Prowse: 7. Added dynamism to Saints' midfield
Mane: 6. A couple of moments of quality, but not quite at his best
Rodriguez: 6. Coped quite well with the physical demands of the game. Just needs a bit more sharpness on the ball
Pelle: 7. Often managed to get the better of the Midtylland defenders, despite being tightly marked
Long: Made a few decent bursts down the wing
Juanmi: Didn't really have enough time to get involved
Saints: Rodriguez (56)
Midtjylland: Sparv (45)
Attendance: 28,890 (190 Midtjylland fans)
Referee: Clement Turpin
Saints line-up: Stekelenburg, Yoshida, Fonte, Caulker, Targett, Romeu, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse (Juanmi 83), Mane, Rodriguez (Long 76), Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Cedric, Martina, S Davis, Tadic
FC Midtjylland line-up: Dahlin, Roemer, Sviatchenko, Lauridsen, Hansen, Sparv, Andersson (Olsson 78), Poulsen, Royer, Sisto (Hassan 72), Rasmussen (Onuachu 89)
Subs not used: Andersen, Pusic, Urena, Banggaard