Sport Soccer

Saturday 22 October 2016

Koeman: Europa League the goal now

Published 18/04/2015 | 21:41

Ronald Koeman watched his Saints side lose at Stoke
Ronald Koeman watched his Saints side lose at Stoke

Ronald Koeman acknowledged Southampton's Champions League dreams were all but over after their 2-1 defeat to Stoke.

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The visitors took a deserved lead in the first half through Morgan Schneiderlin, but the Potters equalised through Mame Diouf following an error by Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davis and Charlie Adam snatched all three points for the hosts six minutes from time.

Saints could have moved within two points of fourth-placed Manchester City with victory, but they remain in sixth - five points behind the Barclays Premier League champions, who play West Ham on Sunday.

Koeman was determined to lead the south-coast club to Champions League qualification for the first time in their history this season, but he has downgraded his target following this loss at the Britannia Stadium.

"The distance to fourth place is five points. Maybe (on Sunday) it will be eight," the Dutchman said.

"We are fighting for a Europa League place - that's our Champions League. You have to see it like that."

There was no shame in Koeman's words. After all, few would have predicted at the start of the campaign that Saints would be competing for any kind of European place in April.

They were tipped as potential relegation candidates when Koeman took over following the departures of key men like Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and former manager Mauricio Pochettino.

But Koeman has got the best out of a bright new bunch of players and the excellent football his team has played throughout the season was evident during much of the first half at the Britannia.

The Saints boss admitted it was always going to be hard to secure a top-four finish this term.

"It's very difficult to beat the big ones in Premier League because of the players they have and can buy," he said.

"Still, I think we are in a very good position. We know our level.

"We try to play good football. That's the quality of the team."

The defeat was difficult to take, though. After Schneiderlin had tapped in his first league goal since September, Graziano Pelle and Nathaniel Clyne missed good chances while Dusan Tadic had an effort cleared off the line by Glenn Whelan.

Koeman felt Saints were robbed of a clear goal-scoring opportunity in the second half when Sadio Mane was flagged for offside after racing through.

"It was a bad decision of the linesman about the offside of Mane," Koeman said. "He was not offside and it was one on one with keeper."

On the plus side for Koeman, key defender Toby Alderweireld may play for the club again this season despite being carried off on a stretcher in the dying minutes.

"Toby looks okay. It's his shoulder," the former Barcelona defender said.

"We have to wait until (Sunday) for the scan but he's back on his feet and he will be good, I think."

Koeman's opposite number Mark Hughes was happy to end a winless four-match run and hailed Adam, who lashed home the winner from 10 yards after Jose Fonte had blocked Jon Walters' shot in the box.

"It's great technique," the Stoke manager said of the Scot, who scored from 65 yards against Chelsea a fortnight ago.

"He knows exactly what he is doing. He has hit it into the ground and that has made it even harder for the keeper to save it."

Stoke's equaliser came when Davis misjudged Steven Nzonzi's shot, which hit the angle and Diouf lashed in from close range.

Hughes had complained before the match that Stoke's chances of making the Europa League via the Fair Play League had been compromised by UEFA, which apparently takes a dim view of the fact that Potters fans sing the Tom Jones hit 'Delilah', which contains lyrics that appear to promote domestic violence.

The song was repeated on the terraces on Saturday, which brought a smile to Hughes' face.

He said: "We are not going to get too many (fair-play) points today.

"But we got three Premier League points and that is the key."

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