Saints suffer opening-day defeat


A bright start to the new season gave way to a miserable opening day for Southampton, as an impressive Tottenham side exploded into life after James Ward-Prowse’s early goal in north London.

The skipper stunned Spurs’ state-of-the-art home with a 12th-minute volley down into the ground that deceived Hugo Lloris.

Saints, for 21 minutes, seemed in control, but from the moment the hosts drew level through Ryan Sessegnon’s far-post header, they never looked back.

Eric Dier glanced in Spurs’ second before half time, while two quick-fire goals on the hour – a Mohammed Salisu own goal and Dejan Kulusevski’s cultured curler – ended the contest.

Ralph Hasenhüttl handed competitive debuts to three summer signings, as Gavin Bazunu, Roméo Lavia and Joe Aribo were trusted from the start.

Saints began the game with the same formation used for the majority of pre-season, with a five-man defence that included Yan Valery as the right-sided centre-back and Moussa Djenepo at left wing-back.

Lavia was joined in midfield by Oriol Romeu and Ward-Prowse, while Aribo acted as the closest support for Adam Armstrong.

In an encouraging start from the visitors, an early burst down the right from Spurs old boy Kyle Walker-Peters drew a foul, from which the first Ward-Prowse free-kick of the season was nodded wide by Mohammed Salisu.

It was from open play that the skipper struck the first goal of Saints’ season, sending one corner of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium into raptures.

Djenepo made the goal, skipping away from Emerson Royal and crossing from the byline to the edge of the box where Ward-Prowse was waiting.

His connection was not perfect, but sweet enough to skip up off the turf and beat Lloris high to the goalkeeper’s right, prompting the familiar golf swing celebration in the direction of the travelling fans.

There is plentiful expectation around Spurs’ chances in 2022/23 after a strong end to last season and a busy transfer window, but none of their new signings were on show and Saints were doing a fine job of keeping the hosts at arm’s length.

That is until Sessegnon equalised out of nothing midway through the first half, as Dejan Kulusevski was afforded too much space to cut back on to his stronger left foot and deliver a tempting cross gleefully headed home by the left wing-back from close range.

Bazunu was having to pick the ball out of his net before making his first save, but he did keep Heung-Min Son at bay 10 minutes later.

When Dier stayed forward from the resulting corner, Son’s cross was glanced in by the defender as Spurs turned the game on its head 13 minutes before the interval.

It was another unlikely goal threat, Ben Davies, who was next to threaten, as Bazunu stooped to parry the Welshman’s awkward 25-yarder around the post.

It had been a half of two halves, and suddenly Saints were happy to stay in the game and regroup at the break.

Things might have got worse when Son raced away from Romeu and into the box, dropped a shoulder to find space to shoot, only to send the chance into orbit.

Then Harry Kane went close for the first time, nearly finishing a move he started himself, as Bazunu thwarted the England captain with another low save.

Hasenhüttl’s response was a double change at half time, as Jack Stephens and Stuart Armstrong were introduced in place of Valery and Adam Armstrong, leaving Saints without a recognised striker in the second half.

But the Spurs that ended the first period were the same Spurs that started the second, pouring forward from the off, as Sessegnon had the ball in the net only to be flagged offside, before Walker-Peters made a vital last-ditch tackle to deny the goalscorer in full flight.

When the hosts finally made the pressure count, they did so twice in two minutes. First Royal’s low shot was heading wide before Salisu diverted the ball into his own net, not knowing what was behind him.

Then Royal, suddenly popping up all over the pitch, cut the ball back for Kulusevski, who stroked a precise shot inside the far post from 12 yards.

Saints attempted to find a way back into it, as Djenepo fired over, Aribo forced a strong low save from Lloris and substitute Romain Perraud's volley was fractionally too high, but the damage had been done.