Before Sunday afternoon, Southampton and Bournemouth had never met at any level higher than the third tier. Football’s spheres and symmetries have never moved these two south coast neighbours into close enough alignment to engender anything that could be called a rivalry. Only rarely have Southampton and Bournemouth been in the same league, and this match was hardly an exception to the rule.
The home side’s lead was all but inevitable from just seconds after kick off. Their passing too quick, their runs too clever, their angles too crafty for Bournemouth’s invisible defence to comprehend.
Steven Davis eventually put the Saints ahead with half an hour gone, a crashing unmarked volley from the edge of the six yard box the culmination of an exercise in triangulation from Jordy Clasie, Graziano Pelle and finally a homing missile of a cross from Ryan Bertrand. It was much deserved, and more was certain.
The second was almost a homage to the first, but more sublime. Pelle’s looping pass with the outside of the foot drew whoops from the crowd as they traced its flight out wide to Tadic as if it were a centre court lob. Tadic’s cross met Graziano Pelle’s rising forehead at the back post. Two nil. Game over.
Pelle’s haka celebration, in tandem with Kiwi club masseur Graeme Staddon, might have been a poor pastiche of the real thing, but the sheer force of their ideas and execution in the final third of the pitch had more than a faint air of the All Blacks about them.
Right from the start, when Pelle cut the ball back to Mane on the edge of the box with ten minutes gone, and he bent it just a fraction too high and wide, the intent was clear enough. Mane volleyed another one into the ground two minutes later which spun across the roof of the net. For the Bournemouth defence, and their uncertain goalkeeper, Adam Federici, this was to be a very long afternoon’s work.
Whenever Bournemouth came forward, they found themselves on the end of unforgiving tackles, usually from Van Dijk. At the other end, Southampton were given space to come forward in waves, building each attack like a richly textured symphony performed without so much as cough of interruption from the Bournemouth defence.
Bournemouth played against ten men for the final thirteen minutes, a clear booking for Victor Wanyama for a carless challenge on the edge of the box added to a similarly thoughtless intervention in the first half, and Craig Pawson had little choice but to send him off. But the match had been lost long ago.
Before kick off, squawking seagulls had punctured the minute’s silence. Rarely does the nature of a place intrude upon its sporting amphitheatre. But as Southampton enter into the crucial phase of their second season under Ronald Koeman, there can be no doubting he has imposed upon this team a nature of their own. The style, the verve, the sheer wit of it all. Mr Koeman doesn’t use the word philosophy, as his countryman and at Manchester United does with such ceaseless abandon. The difference is that his team does the talking. It’s clear they have something so many sides, even great sides, lack: an identity. They are singular in their purpose, believers in their own method. And in this charming, loud sweeping single tier of a stadium, it’s frightening to watch.
There will, of course, be many more opponents to come upon whom it will not be so straightforward to exhibit this identity. Bournemouth’s injury misfortunes are heartbreaking, but this is an unforgiving business, and as the Premier League moves into its long winter, without drastic change their hour in the sun will be short.
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