Ronald Koeman’s return to Vitesse Arnhem was a painful one, but at least the Southampton manager can take some comfort in his side’s safe passage to the Europa League play-offs.
Few expected Saints to come a cropper in the Netherlands after winning last week’s first leg 3-0, yet the Dutchman still named a strong side, such was his desire to overcome the club with whom he began his managerial career.
That approach paid off as Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mané struck to secure a 2-0 triumph, giving Koeman something to smile about after rupturing his Achilles on the eve of the third qualifying round tie.
The Dutchman looks likely to stay in his homeland to have an operation before Sunday’s Premier League opener at Newcastle, making him an injury doubt for the trip to St James’ Park.
It will be interesting to see how Saints fare in the North-east after the trip to Arnhem, where progression was all but wrapped up by Pelle’s classy, fourth-minute strike.
Vitesse threatened to net on a number of occasions but Koeman’s men held firm and Mané scored late in a match which witnessed Jay Rodriguez’s return to competitive football after 16 months out with a serious knee injury.
It was a positive end to the day after unsavoury clashes between supporters beforehand, with police storming in after glasses, chairs and punches were thrown in the city centre.
Tempers appeared to have settled by the time play got under way – a match in which things could scarcely have started better for the visitors. Dusan Tadic’s whipped cross found James Ward-Prowse, with Pelle taking the ball and turning before sending a low, left-footed strike past Eloy Room.
Maikel van der Werff saw a hopeful, long-range strike tipped over by Maarten Stekelenburg, who was again in the way to thwart Valeri Qazaishvili.
Valeri Kazaishvili saw a low effort saved after a subdued start to the second half and Maya Yoshida produced a fine block to deny Milot Rashica as Vitesse tried to claw back a goal.
There was an exhibition feel about the second half, making this a sensible time to bring Rodriguez on for his first competitive appearance in 16 months. Welcomed by a standing ovation from Saints fans, he came close to repaying them with a stinging 30-yard drive.
Mané then robbed Chelsea loanee Danilo Pantic and ran in on goal, with his low shot beating Room.Reuse content