Monday 23 October 2017

Pelle hits target to sink Hull


Southampton's Jose Fonte and Graziano Pelle celebrate
Southampton's Jose Fonte and Graziano Pelle celebrate

PAUL DOYLE at St Mary's

Two Southampton players ended tortuous waits in this match and, in so doing, left Hull sitting nervously. James Ward-Prowse converted a second-half penalty to claim his first Premier League goal on his 69th appearance, and Graziano Pelle scored in the league for the first time since before Christmas, strengthening Southampton's push for European qualification and deepening Hull's drop fears.

Five matches without a win had left Hull in a precarious position, and they arrived at St Mary's as the team most likely to fall into the relegation zone if one of the bottom three were to stage a breakout. That threat drove Steve Bruce to drop goalkeeper Allan McGregor, whose fragility in recent weeks had aggravated the sense of anxiety gripping Hull. Forty-year-old Steve Harper was called upon to provide more security.

The veteran was given an unwelcome early test, as a back pass in the opening seconds presented Shane Long with an opportunity to score against the club that sold him in August. The Irish striker has many attributes, but flawless finishing is not one - as shown by his three goals from 25 league appearances for his club - and he spared his former side by rounding Harper with a hefty touch that took the ball out of play.

Southampton's challenge for a Champions League spot may have faded, but their boss, Ronald Koeman, has made it clear that qualifying for the Europa League would be celebrated by a club that has not competed on the continent for 38 years. His team showed their determination to achieve that honour by regaining the initiative.

Koeman replaced Victor Wanyama with Ward-Prowse at half-time, but regular outbreaks of inadequacy by both sides continued to mark the spectacle. When Southampton took the lead, inadequacy by Hull was a factor, with Alex Bruce knocking over Long to concede a penalty. Harper got a hand to the spot-kick, but Ward-Prowse's shot carried on.

Steve Bruce chased an equaliser by bringing on striker Yannick Sagbo, but his hopes were dashed nine minutes from time after Morgan Schneiderlin fed Pelle, who swept the ball gratefully into net from eight yards.


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