Southampton have one foot in the UEFA Europa League play-off after a 3-0 win over Vitesse in the first leg of their third-qualifying-round tie.
The visit of manager Ronald Koeman’s former club proved a straightforward challenge for Southampton, who were rarely threatened as they made a winning return to European competition after a 12-year absence.
Graziano Pelle proved a thorn in Vitesse’s side throughout, and he made Southampton the third club for whom he has scored against the Arnhem side when he crashed in the opener after 36 minutes.
The hammer blow for Vitesse arrived just before half time, when Dusan Tadic converted a penalty following a foul on Sadio Mane, and Shane Long all but wrapped up the tie when he headed home in the 84th minute.
The result gives Koeman’s team a comfortable lead to defend when they head to Arnhem for the second leg, having displayed admirable fitness and composure in their first competitive action of the season.
The hosts improved as the game wore on, having shown initial signs of nerves while Vitesse created the better of the early openings.
Georgian striker Valeri Kazaishvili gave Southampton a wake-up call when he latched onto a long ball and managed to get away from his marker before dragging a shot just wide of Maarten Stekelenburg’s post.
As the home side settled, Maya Yoshida should have done better from a Steven Davis corner, and an even better chance followed when Victor Wanyama found himself with time and space inside the box, but the Kenyan’s aim was poor and Vitesse goalkeeper Eloy Room made a relatively simple save.
The Premier League side found their rhythm by the half-hour mark, and Davis stung Room’s hands when he arrowed a fierce shot from just outside the box.
Southampton’s dominance paid off when Cedric broke down the right flank and fed Mane, whose simple pass into the box left Pelle with only Room to beat, and he did so with an instinctive shot that flashed into the top of the net.
On the cusp of half-time, the hosts doubled their lead, as Mane was brought down in the box by Rochdi Achenteh, and Tadic made no mistake with the spot kick.
On-loan Stekelenburg, making his Southampton debut, enjoyed a quiet game until Danilo Pantic broke through after 70 minutes, but the Dutchman was alert to the task, saving low to his right.
Vitesse substitute Milot Rashica missed a clear chance, spurning a volley over the bar from 10 yards out when a more accurate shot might have put his side right back in the tie.
Moments later, second-half substitute Long broke clear of the defence and was denied by Room, but fellow replacement Juanmi flicked the loose ball back to the Irishman and he made no mistake with a close-range header.
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