Southampton and Hapoel Be’er Sheva remain level at the top of Group K in the Europa League after they played out a goalless draw at Turner Stadium.
Although the visiting Saints had been on a four-match winning run in all competitions, they never really got going in front of a hostile crowd and instead clung to a fifth consecutive clean sheet.
While Claude Puel’s side had beaten Sparta Prague 3-0 at home and Be’er Sheva had travelled to Inter’s San Siro and won 2-0 on matchday one, neither team found their attacking rhythm as the defences came out on top.
With top-scorer Charlie Austin rested, it was Virgil van Dijk who wasted Southampton’s best opening with a header early on.
The home side, meanwhile, had to wait until the second half for a clear opportunity, from which Maor Melikson failed to trouble Fraser Forster.
Both teams are now on four points with two games played, with Inter, the Saints’ next opponents, bottom of the group.
Although the first chance fell the visitors’ way, stand-in captain Van Dijk somehow nodded off target when James Ward-Prowse’s typically brilliant delivery landed on his head just yards from goal.
Almost adding insult to injury, the Dutchman then meekly ceded possession on the edge of his own box, but Maharan Radi’s strike squirmed kindly into Forster’s arms.
While the England goalkeeper held again when Tony Nwakaeme shot from outside the area, Be’er Sheva could not turn their considerable possession into further first-half chances.
Puel summoned Dusan Tadic from the bench – hooking European debutant Jake Hesketh – in the hope of gaining a foothold in a fairly one-sided affair, but the Saints’ only effort caused a fracas when Nathan Redmond curled over as the hosts paused, expecting the ball to be knocked out for Matt Targett to receive treatment.
Southampton quickly stamped their authority on the second period, though, and David Goresh had to be down well to parry a powerful drive from Ward-Prowse.
However, with Puel’s men then following suit in failing to create shooting opportunities, Be’er Sheva should have soon led.
Some shoddy defending left Nwakaeme free to pick out Melikson on the right side of the box, but, as Ben Sahar raced forward in support, the Israel winger pulled his finish wide of the far post.
While another opening saw Nwakaeme drag off target, Forster beat away Ovidiu Hoban’s effort and had little difficulty in seeing out another shut-out to earn a potentially vital point.
Key Opta stats:
– Southampton have gone two games unbeaten in Europe (excl. qualifying) for the first time since 1984-85.
– The Saints are the first English side not to score away against Israeli opposition in Europe since Manchester United in 2002 (0-3 v Maccabi Haifa).
– After conceding 30 goals in their first six European games (excl. qualifying), Hapoel Be’er Sheva have now kept back-to-back clean sheets in their last two.
– The Saints didn’t register their first shot on target until the 51st minute.
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