Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino praised the “quality and spirit” of his side despite being held by Swansea City in the Argentine’s first competitive match in charge of the Saints.
The wasteful hosts created the better opportunities in an entertaining stalemate but were denied by poor finishing and good goalkeeping as chance after chance was spurned, particularly in a one-sided first half.
Striker Manolo Gabbiadini hit a post with a header after only 90 seconds, Dusan Tadic fired wide from four yards and Maya Yoshida failed to find the target with an acrobatic volley and a late close-range header, while Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski also denied James Ward-Prowse.
Sub Charlie Austin hit the side-netting with a chance deep in stoppage time.
“We did everything to win the game but we couldn’t,” added ex-Alaves boss Pellegrino, who replaced the sacked Claude Puel in June. “We controlled the ball, created chances but this is football – you have to get goals and we couldn’t do so.
“Sometimes it is really difficult to score – we had 29 shots. We have quality and spirit in the team and it is best to keep going, keep training.”
The Swans failed to have a shot on target and their best opportunities were spurned when Tammy Abraham headed wide after 10 minutes and Leroy Fer blasted a volley off target just after the interval.
However, boss Paul Clement was pleased to have gained a hard-fought point.
“It was a hard afternoon, they had a massive amount of chances, set-play after set-play, and we suffered at times,” added Clement.
“I’m happy we ended up with a point and it could have been a lot worse. The last-gasp defending was good but we didn’t use the ball well enough further up the pitch.
“We are pleased we have got out of here with a draw. I’m sure they will be disappointed and think ‘how have we not won’.”
Pellegrino off to a slow start
The Saints have not won a home opener since 1988-89 and have been victorious only twice in 19 seasons of Premier League football on the opening day.
For the Saints, there is instant pressure on manager Pellegrino to not only consolidate at a club that finished eighth last season and reached a cup final, but to do so playing a more entertaining brand of football than his predecessor Puel.
The Premier League’s third Argentine manager will be seeking to match his efforts last year in Spain, having led Alaves to ninth in La Liga and the Copa del Rey final.
Southampton have finished in the top eight of the Premier League in each of the last four seasons, but they did not score in their final five home league fixtures last season and only managed 17 home goals all term at home.
However, there was no shortage on chances created by his side against Paul Clement’s men, with Gabbiadini heading against the woodwork within 90 seconds and Tadic missing a sitter from close range after superb link-up play from Ryan Bertrand and Nathan Redmond.
Even in failing to score, there was at least a sense with the Saints fans that they were seeing a keener commitment to attacking football and they might have won it at the end, had Yoshida not headed wide from close range.
In the absence of last season’s top scorer Fernando Llorente, who has a broken arm, and Everton transfer target Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Swans were without their top two attacking talents and they struggled to create much at all.
Main men missing
For both clubs, the contest was notable as much for who did not feature as for who did, with both sides forced to do without their star players.
For Southampton, there remains a degree of uncertainty about defender Virgil Van Dijk, who has made clear his intention to leave St Mary’s despite Saints’ insistence he is unavailable for transfer. The club said he missed the big match with a virus.
After the match, Pellegrino said he hoped the Dutch centre-half still had a future at St Mary’s.
“He is part of the squad. I can’t talk about something that right now, I can’t manage,” said the Argentine. “Hopefully we are waiting for him to train with the team and be part of the team again.
“It is good news that he was here, like all his teammates. You have to be here supporting them.
“I have talked with him twice and the club was clear with him. We repeat again the same thing. All of us know Virgil is an important part of the club.”
Swansea expect key performer Gylfi Sigurdsson to complete his protracted move to Everton sooner rather than later, with the Iceland international having largely made himself unavailable for pre-season.
“There is a difference of opinion on the valuation of the player, but I don’t think it is far off,” said Clement, with Everton unwilling to pay the £50m asking price for the player.
The absence of the £100m rated-pair has cast a large shadow over both clubs this summer and, as was the case at St Mary’s, both managers must probably learn to do without their star men going forward. Swansea, especially, are clearly going to miss their attacking talisman.
Swans likely to be in battle at bottom again?
Swansea, of the two sides, will probably feel they have the most work to do in order to avoid a season of struggle after their remarkable escape from relegation last season.
Much of their hope will rest on young shoulders, with two players with an outside chance of forcing themselves into England World Cup contention likely to be pivotal.
Central defender Alfie Mawson started the season as he finished the last, in superb form, while on-loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham will reflect on what might have been.
He headed wide with Swansea’s best opportunity and will need more consistent service if he is to match his tally of 27 goals for Bristol City in the Championship last term. A partnership between him and Llorente will tantalise Swans fans.
However, the Swans will be content with how they defended in their opening encounter, having absorbed large spells of pressure, but they have now failed to score in seven of their 11 meetings with the Saints in the Premier League.
Man of the match: Oriol Romeu (Southampton)
Saints fail to score at home – again
- None of the last six Southampton managers have won their first Premier League game in charge (including Mauricio Pellegrino).
- Southampton have never won an opening-day home fixture in the Premier League (drawn six, lost four).
- Swansea are unbeaten in their last four Premier League season openers (won two, drawn two).
- Seven of Southampton’s last nine Premier League games have been goalless at half-time.
- Indeed, Saints have now drawn a blank in six of their last seven top-flight matches.
- Swansea failed to land a single shot on target, while the hosts Southampton fired in just two despite attempting 29 shots in total (including blocks).
Southampton have another home game as their match against West Ham on Saturday, 19 August (15:00 BST) will be played at St Mary’s as the Hammers’ London Stadium is unavailable following the end of the World Athletics Championships. Swansea entertain Manchester United in the early kick-off next Saturday (12:30 BST).
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