Thursday 26 April 2018

Boufal finally rewards Saints for their faith

Southampton 1 West Brom 0

Sofiane Boufal of Southampton scores his sides first goal Photo: Getty
Sofiane Boufal of Southampton scores his sides first goal Photo: Getty

Ben Fisher

When Southampton smashed their transfer record on Sofiane Boufal last summer, they were surely dreaming of match-winning moments like this.

He started the move inside his own half, jinking past a sea of West Bromwich Albion players before tucking the ball low beyond Ben Foster. The Morocco forward had, just four minutes after coming on and five minutes from time, earned Mauricio Pellegrino's side a well-deserved victory.

Sofiane Boufal of Southampton celebrates with teammates after scoring his sides first goal Photo: Getty
Sofiane Boufal of Southampton celebrates with teammates after scoring his sides first goal Photo: Getty

Boufal arrived from Lille with a reputation for the spectacular and this mazy run and then finish was a prime example of his magic. Unfortunately, he has found himself on the periphery of this Southampton side too often. For Pellegrino, it was a case of sheer relief after dominating the match against an Albion side whose performance was desperately poor.

This was never destined to be a classic, given the hosts' troubles in front of goal and the visitors' notoriously stingy defence, and a deafening pre-match playlist did little to whet the appetite for what was to come at St Mary's.

By the time the teams kicked off, the vidiprinter had thrown up an unwanted headache of scores - not least Bournemouth's win at Stoke City - that only heightened the importance of taking victory here, while Storm Brian was moving in for the night.

Pellegrino and Tony Pulis tweaked the sides that earned them their respective draws last weekend, with Steven Davis replacing Nathan Redmond for the hosts, while the goalkeeper Foster returned for West Brom following a knee injury sustained during a kick-about in the back garden with his son. Foster had to be alert on his return, while Fraser Forster may as well have not bothered turning up before half-time.

Dusan Tadic of Southampton appeals for penalty Photo: Getty
Dusan Tadic of Southampton appeals for penalty Photo: Getty

Gareth Barry slammed an early effort into the side netting but that was about adventurous as West Brom got before the interval.

For Southampton, the first period told a familiar narrative. Ryan Bertrand's free-kick fizzed on to the post, via Jonny Evans's head, after Jake Livermore was adjudged to have upended Shane Long 20 yards from goal. Oriol Romeu then poked wide from Steven Davis's corner before Long squandered another chance after Manolo Gabbiadini, freed by Davis, sped down the left flank before finding his strike partner but the end product was simply not there.

The chances kept coming. West Brom, who lost their captain, Evans, to injury midway through the first half, had somehow survived.

After the break came more Southampton pressure, with Gabbiadini heading over from Cedric Soares's whipped cross. West Brom moved to a back three eight minutes into the second period, with Barry replaced by Gareth McAuley, allowing Jay Rodriguez to partner Salomon Rondon in attack. Soon after Rodriguez, the former Southampton striker, sprung through on goal, but with only Forster to beat he skewed horribly wide. Pulis had his head in his hands.

West Brom rallied, but Pellegrino threw on Charlie Austin and Boufal, and it was the latter who emphatically delivered, finding a winner that looked like eluding them.

To compound the pain for Albion, the defender Craig Dawson limped off down the tunnel shortly after.

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