Monday 19 August 2019

Saints set sights on Europe

Sunderland 0 Southampton 1

Southampton's Graziano Pelle is challenged by Sunderland's Sebastian Coates
Southampton's Graziano Pelle is challenged by Sunderland's Sebastian Coates
Southampton's Dusan Tadic celebrates his penalty goal with Steven Davis

Daniel Spellman

Ronald Koeman is targeting a return to European football after seeing his team extend their unbeaten run to eight games at lowly Sunderland.

Dusan Tadic's second-half penalty was enough to secure victory and maintain their bid for another lofty finish after an all-too-brief Europa League adventure earlier this season.

"I think if we reach European football, it would be like we had won the title," said Koeman.

Asked if that was possible, he replied: "Of course it's possible. Why not? Why not? We have the experience from last year. We know it's difficult because it's not easy to beat big teams, big clubs after 38 games in the Premier League. But we have potential, we have qualities, we have a squad now to fight for that.

"That's very good, that's positive and we will see what happens at the end of the season."

However, Koeman admitted a top-four finish is beyond the Saints.

He said: "No, no, no. Top four? It's maybe too difficult. Qualifying for Europe means maybe seventh place - like last season - is possible, six, five, four.

"It's too early in the season to have an opinion on things about that. We like to enjoy football - that's one of the best qualities, how we like to play, and then you will win a lot of games, we know."

Southampton had the better of the 90 minutes, but were repeatedly thwarted by keeper Costel Pantilimon until Yann M'Vila's ill-judged challenge on Ryan Bertrand prompted referee Mike Jones to point to the spot and Tadic obliged to give the visitors a 69th-minute lead.

Black Cats boss Sam Allardyce had no complaints about the decision, but plenty about the tackle.

He said: "He [M'Vila] didn't need to go to ground. He'd done the job, he'd covered around DeAndre [Yedlin]. Just jockey the player out of the box.

"The player sees the tackle and goes, 'That's me, I'm going down now', and he can't argue with the penalty decision because if he'd just stayed on his feet, the lad was going nowhere."

The defeat was the third in four games since Allardyce took over on Wearside, and he is desperate to rid his players of a fear factor he believes is hindering their performances.

He said: "In training, I see a lot of good stuff, I see a lot of good things, but I ain't seeing it when we get on the field, that's my problem, so there's got to be a bit of fear in the players who are frightened to express themselves.

"They've got to really get rid of that fear and show on the pitch what they can do on the training ground."

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