Austin injury hands Long an opportunity to impress
Southampton 1 Middlesbrough 0
Record signing Soufiane Boufal's first Premier League goal gave Southampton only their second win in seven league matches and it could prove even more timely after news emerged that Charlie Austin could be absent for up to four months.
Austin, Saints' top scorer with nine goals, dislocated his right shoulder during the first half of last Thursday's exit from the Europa League in a 1-1 draw with Hapoel Be'er Sheva, and may require an operation.
"Normally that means surgery and between three and four months," said Saints manager Claude Puel.
"Of course it's difficult to play without Charlie because he has scored a lot of goals for us. We will have to look to other players, such as Jay Rodriguez. It's important all the players take up the challenge of being without Charlie."
In the circumstances, Boufal, nominally an attacking midfield player, whose debut for Southampton was delayed by a knee injury following his £16m transfer from Lille in August, can expect to be asked to weigh in with more goals - as can Rodriguez, who started yesterday, Nathan Redmond and Ireland striker Shane Long, who got only five minutes against Boro.
Boufal began the game on the left of midfield but the Moroccan was switched to a more central role in the second half and rewarded Puel with a stinging 22-yard shot after 53 minutes.
"A very good result," Puel said. "It's difficult to come back after a big disappointment but we had good spirit. It was a fantastic goal. He has fantastic quality and he can make the difference."
It was only Boro's second away defeat of the season and followed draws at Arsenal, Manchester City and Leicester. But they deserved nothing for an unambitious display that leaves them in sole possession of the title of the division's lowest scorers - a title they had previously shared with Saints.
Boro manager Aitor Karanka seemed strangely content with their limp, passive performance.
Jordan Rhodes, standing in for the injured Alvaro Negredo, had an early chance blocked by the feet of Fraser Forster, and their only other chance was the result of a bad backpass from James Ward-Prowse.
Redmond replaced Dusan Tadic at the start of the second half and almost immediately he provided an opening for Boufal, whose volley was blocked. But there was no stopping his next shot as he took a pass from Ward-Prowse and swerved the ball between Valdes and his near post from 22 yards.
Boro's search for an equaliser that might have been expected never materialised and Saints were in control from then on. (© Independent News Service)