They had a stupendous total of 28 shots on goal but only two were on target. Playing at St Mary’s has been Southampton’s achilles heel for too long, all of last season in fact, and this was a record sixth successive home league match without scoring in front of their own supporters. It is more than 545 minutes since they last scored here, against Crystal Palace on 5 April.
The absence of any goals did little to prevent the Southampton manager’s first competitive match in charge being overshadowed by those missing parties. Neither Virgil van Dijk, the Saints captain, nor Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Swansea midfielder, featured as questions rumble on over their immediate futures.
Van Dijk was present in the stands, at least. “It is good news that Virgil was here, like all the team-mates,” Pellegrino said. “Because when you are outside the team you have to be behind them and supporting them. Hopefully he can change his point of view to be with us in the next few weeks. I’ve talked with him twice and the club was clear with him. We will repeat again the same.”
Swansea were totally devoid of any creativity and their own frustrations revolve around Sigurdsson’s elongated, but expected, transfer to Everton. “I do not think it is far [away],” Paul Clement, the Swansea manager, said. “What would be a better situation would be if the window closed before the start of the season. I don’t really understand why it goes to the end of August. You should know who you’ve got and who you haven’t got.”
There was a swell of anticipation at a sold-out St Mary’s about a new era under Pellegrino while before kick-off there was a touching tribute to the former Southampton owner Markus Liebherr, with last Thursday the seventh anniversary of his passing.
Pellegrino made one change from the Southampton team that started against Stoke City in May – Claude Puel’s final match in charge – with Manolo Gabbiadini preferred to Charlie Austin in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Both of Pellegrino’s summer signings, Mario Lemina and Jan Bednarek, were on the Southampton bench. Clement, meanwhile, handed Tammy Abraham his full Swansea and Premier League debut, with Fernando Llorente absent with a broken arm. It was an encouraging start for Abraham but he was left isolated throughout.
Puel’s ultimate undoing was Southampton’s dreadful home performances last term, in which they scored only 17 league goals at St Mary’s. And while Saints seemed to have rediscovered their buzz under Pellegrino, the Argentinian was left scratching his head at Saints’ usual profligacy in front of goal. Gabbiadini grazed the bar in the opening minute before Dusan Tadic fired wide from Ryan Bertrand’s low cross.
The lack of conviction against a vulnerable Swansea backline was painful, verging on comical. James Ward-Prowse was guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net, by which point Swansea had 10 bodies defending in the box. He was, though, only one of several Saints culprits. On the brink of half-time, Ward-Prowse vented his frustrations on Martin Olsson, sending the Swansea left-back tumbling over the advertising hoardings with a brisk shoulder barge.
With Southampton’s tally of shots well into double figures with nothing to show for it, Pellegrino summoned Charlie Austin in place of Gabbiadini after 68 minutes. Tadic then let fly from distance, before Maya Yoshida spurned another great opening. Steven Davis’s whipped cross was helped on by Oriol Romeu but lurking at the back post was not Austin, but the Japanese defender who headed over. Swansea retreated deeper and deeper. Abraham’s withdrawal was met by anger from the away supporters, with the defender Kyle Bartley brought on to shut up shop. By the end, Yoshida was curling free-kicks wide of goal and Cédric Soares blasting wide from distance.
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