Southampton were left to, once again, rue their missed chances as they played out a goalless draw at Bournemouth on a sun-blessed afternoon encounter that the result on the pitch couldn’t reflect.
Though the draw and clean sheet at the Vitality Stadium represents as a decent result for Mark Hughes’ players, it could have been better with Saints having most of the opportunities, especially late on as both Stuart Armstrong and Manolo Gabbiadini were made to regret missing good openings.
Bournemouth started on the front foot, showing the quality they have showed in recent games against Watford and Crystal Palace, and in the first minute caused the away side a scare. Lewis Cook’s run through the middle ended with Josh King picking out Adam Smith with a cut back, but he fluffed his close-range shot.
It was a terrific atmosphere early on, with both sides producing some forward thinking football and setting the tone with a few crunching tackles. As the tempo settled, the game plans became clearer, with Bournemouth trying to use their pace and run the ball, while Saints were trying to get it out wide and into the corners for the full backs and Nathan Redmond and Mo Elyounoussi to chase down and try and create.
There was a long break in play as Charlie Austin received treatment after a clash of heads with Nathan Ake, but he was able to continue, as Hughes swapped Redmond to the right wing and Elyounoussi to the left to try and get the latter into the game.
It was Austin who had the first real chance for Saints on 35 minutes.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg chipped a nice pass over the head of Ake, which had Austin homing in on goal. He opted to try and take it around the advancing Asmir Begovic, but a heavy touch saw the ball run out of play; Hojbjerg had a go himself just before the break, but his half volley from 20 yards was straight at Begovic.
After the interval it was once again Bournemouth that started well, with Josh King flicking a header from Jefferson Lerma’s right wing cross narrowly wide only moments into the second period. Ings tried to make something happen for Saints on 56 minutes, as he cut in from the left and hit a right footed shot, but Begovic was able to make a fairly comfortable save.
Cherries really should have taken the lead on 63 minutes, as Callum Wilson got to the left by-line and found King with a pull back, but he side footed first time wide of the target.
Hojbjerg, who had a new central midfield partner with Mario Lemina hobbling off after jarring his left knee to be replaced by Stuart Armstrong, showed great technique again six minutes later, bringing down a half cleared cross on his chest before volleying goalwards with Begovic having to turn over the bar.
There was a let off at the other end as Ake rose highest to meet a corner, but from eight yards out he put his header straight at the grateful Alex McCarthy.
Hughes made a double change on 78 minutes replacing both of his strikers, with Shane Long and Manolo Gabbiadini coming on to try and find a winner. Long almost had an instant impact, as he hit a shot from an acute angle that Begovic blocked at his near post. Armstrong should have scored a winner with six minutes remaining, as Long headed back to him from Cedric’s looping right wing cross. The midfielder brought the ball down on his chest and just had to finish from six yards out, but swung his effort high wide and handsome.
Gabbiadini had a glorious chance to bag the three points for Saints deep into stoppage time. All he had to do was get a header on target from the edge of the six yard box, with Begovic rushing out for and missing a Redmond cross, but the Italian headed over the bar and the game ended goalless.
Though the game proved to show a certain improvement in performance against one of the strongest sides in the league this season, the Saints are still very poor in-front of goal. They lack the ability to sweep away their chances when they are given license to, and as a result they now haven’t scored in 4 league games; the draw to Brighton was the last game in which they did so. Players like Danny Ings, Shane Long and Charlie Austin really need to start taking responsibility for getting goals for their side, or like I repeat week in week out, they are at risk of relegation as they were last season.