Southampton are through to the UEFA Europa League play-offs after defeating Vitesse 2-0 away from home to clinch a 5-0 aggregate win, giving Ronald Koeman a happy return to his former club.
Vitesse handed Koeman his first job in management during the 2000-01 season, but he allowed little room for sentiment as Southampton swept the Eredivisie club aside, completing the job on Thursday after taking a 3-0 lead to the Netherlands.
Koeman, using crutches following a training injury, was highly critical of coaches who do not play their strongest teams for Europa League ties during the build-up and it came as little surprise to see him rest few key players.
And, as a result, it took Southampton barely four minutes to effectively dash any hopes of an already unlikely Vitesse comeback – Graziano Pelle producing a tidy finish.
The home side were largely in control of possession, though without a natural forward leading the line, Peter Bosz’s men only really threatened from distance.
Koeman afforded Pelle a break during the final 18 minutes, giving Jay Rodriguez his first competitive appearance in 16 months following a knee injury, and Southampton added a second late on via Sadio Mane to leave just one more tie between them and the group stage of the competition.
Although they ultimately caused Southampton few issues, Vitesse looked full of attacking intent from the start as they chased a hefty first-leg deficit.
However, such a cavalier attitude proved unwise and their uphill struggle quickly worsened, as Pelle’s nimble footwork inside the area opened up space and he made no mistake, slamming a low effort beyond Eloy Room and into the bottom-right corner with four minutes gone.
Vitesse continued to see more of the ball and crafted a few half chances, but Maarten Stekelenburg was not forced into a meaningful save until the 20th minute, as he denied Valeri Qazaishvili from the edge of the area.
Despite the hosts’ enjoying plenty of possession, Southampton remained the bigger threat on their rare ventures into the attacking half.
And Mane should have doubled their lead 10 minutes before the break, but the winger could only fire straight at Room after robbing Kelvin Leerdam of the ball 20 yards from goal.
Southampton looking solid at the back after the break. Qazaishvili did provide one moment of inspiration, however, as the tricky Georgian darted through a hole in the visitors’ defence and drew Stekelenburg into a save down to the goalkeeper’s right from 25 yards.
Vitesse’s only other opening fell to Milot Rashica a few moments after Rodriguez’s 72nd-minute introduction, but Maya Yoshida took the sting out of his powerful drive and Stekelenburg then calmly tipped it over.
Mane completed the scoring with a minute left, running at his hesitant marker and coolly stroking past Room.
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