By Stephen Giles
- Europa League First-Leg Playoff
- Ex-Saint Tim Sparv gave the visitors a shock half-time lead
- Jay Rodriguez levels for Southampton from the penalty spot
SOUTHAMPTON, UK – Jay Rodriguez’s second half penalty handed Southampton a lifeline in their Europa League play-off tie with Danish champions Midtjylland at St Mary’s.
The result means that the Saints will certainly need to score in Denmark next week (27th) to progress to the Europa League Group Stages after being held to a disappointing, but fair draw.
Tim Sparv. a former Southampton youth team player who played with the likes of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale during his time on the South Coast gave the visitors a shock lead on the stroke of half-time with a lovely left-foot drive from the edge of the area after a headed clearance from Jose Fonte – in scoring, he refused to celebrate in respect.
It was a sucker-punch blow for the home side, who had for long periods of the first half completely dominated proceedings, but were guilty of wayward finishing. But going behind at the break certainly sparked the home team into life.
Half-time: Southampton 0 Midtjylland 1 (Sparv 45)
The home side came out looking for an instant response, and after a downward headed goal from Steven Caulker was disallowed for a foul on Erik Sviatchenko, the Saints were given their just desserts five minutes later when French referee Clement Turpin awarded Southampton a penalty when defender Kian Hansen knocked over James Ward-Prowse.
Up stepped Jay Rodriguez to send Johan Dahlin the wrong way and convert his first competitive goal since rupturing his cruciate knee ligaments in April 2014.
It was constant Southampton pressure from thereon in and the home side almost took a lead back into the second-leg in Denmark in the seventh minute of added time, but Maya Yoshida saw his header tipped onto the post by Midtjylland goalkeeper Dahlin.
So, Southampton travel to Denmark next Thursday having to score to progress. It will be a tricky task, but his side will be confident they can get the job done.
Southampton boss Ronald Koeman:
“We played too slowly in the first half. We played more aggressively and direct in the second half and that was the difference.
“Sometimes you have to play the long ball and play for the second ball. It’s not a good result but we had five or six very good chances.
“We’re not really the favourites any more as they have a good result. We will fight for a win. Even a 2-2 draw would be good.”