Saints made a fine job of their task as they built up a good lead in their UEFA Europa League tie with Vitesse at St Mary’s.
It was about as perfect as first leg contests go, with three well-taken strikes and no away goal conceded which mean that Ronald Koeman’s men have given themselves a great platform to build on when they head to Holland next week.
Their lead in the tie owes much to their first half endeavour which saw Graziano Pellè and Dušan Tadić put the hosts in control. Pellè opened the scoring with a fierce strike on 36 minutes, while Tadić’s penalty on the stroke of half-time gave Saints room to breathe.
Substitute Shane Long combined with new boy Juanmi to seal a comfortable victory in Saints’ first European game for 12 years, where they gave themselves every chance of having another one to look forward to in a few weeks’ time.
There were home debuts for new signings Maarten Stekelenburg, Jordy Clasie, and Cédric Soares, while fellow new-recruits Juanmi and Cuco Martina began this match on the bench.
Saints got the game under way with Mané and Pellè attacking the Northam stand on a bright and mild evening inside a packed-out St Mary’s which was anticipating its first European game in 12 years.
A battling opening 20 minutes or so saw the visitors make a good fist of frustrating their opponents with a typically solid approach, looking to make the odd break on the counter-attack. That tactic almost reaped dividends as early as the third minute when midfielder Valeri Kazaishvili cut a shot across the face of Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal after latching onto Isaiah Brown’s pass.
Saints began to venture forward with more purpose through their threats on the flanks as Sadio Mané and Dušan Tadić started to get more joy in Vitesse’s half.
The first effort on goal came in the 13th minute when Maya Yoshida headed Steven Davis’s corner straight at Eloy Room, and the best of the early opportunities came on 22 when a corner not cleared properly landed at Victor Wanyama’s feet. The Kenyan’s placed shot on the follow-up was pushed away by Room to the waiting Yoshida, but the defender’s close range effort went wide under pressure from a last ditch challenge.
Cédric Soares had impressed with his driving bursts into the visitors’ half, and he was next to have a go, with a shot that was blocked inside the area, before Steven Davis then saw a more testing curling strike plucked out of the air by Room.
The opening goal arrived on 36 minutes when another neat move finally yielded the goal it deserved with Mané’s clever short ball into the area finding Pellè’s run perfectly, and the Italian did the rest with an emphatic finish high into the net from an angle.
That spurred Saints on to a strong end to the opening half which was confirmed just before the break when Mané’s advance across the byline was ended prematurely by a shove to the ground by Rochdi Achenteh who was booked for his foul on the Senegalese.
Tadić stepped up to convert the spot-kick with placed effort into bottom left corner which was followed by the referee’s blow of the whistle for half-time.
There were no changes by either side at the interval, and no change in the dominance of the team leading the match, with Saints remaining at a high tempo for the start of the second 45.
Vitesse continued to look as though they had been worn down by those two first half strikes , with Pellè almost going on to punish another weak clearance by Achenteh, but the volley from Saints’ number 19 flew wide.
Saints made a double substitution just past the hour after a break in play following a foul by Tadić. The Serbian made way for Shane Long, while Juanmi also came on for his home debut in place of Clasie, who had taken a slight knock.
A third Chelsea loanee entered the action for Vitesse on 67 minutes when winger Danilo Pantić replaced Kazaishvili.
The visitors created their best opening moments later when substitute Milot Rashica broke through one-on-one with Stekelenburg who produced a fine save to deny what would have been a valuable goal for the Dutch side.
Vitesse had steadied the ship on the pitch while their supporters sparked into life off it, as the atmosphere was cranked up a notch for the final 20 minutes or so.
Their best chance in that time arrived on the back of a free-kick when Milot Rashica’s drive was deflected off a teammate inside the area which looped over Stekelenburg’s crossbar without troubling the keeper.
It proved to be a double blow when Saints made the tie an uphill task for Vitesse when substitutes Long and Juanmi combined for the third Southampton goal of the game.
The ball was typically poached by Long in midfield who then advanced to Room’s goal, only to see the shot-stopper make a block on the edge of his area. The rebound fell to Juanmi, who was forced out wide, but the Spaniard kept his cool to cross it back for Long inside the six yard box to head home comfortably for 3-0 with six minutes to play.
Harrison Reed added further stability to the midfield for the final five minutes of play, replacing Mané, who received a standing ovation as he made his way off the pitch, which was replicated soon after when the final whistle went.
Southampton team: Maarten Stekelenburg, Cédric Soares, Maya Yoshida, José Fonte (c), Matt Targett, Jordy Clasie (Juanmi 62), Victor Wanyama, Steven Davis, Sadio Mané (Harrison Reed 85), Dušan Tadić (Shane Long 62), Graziano Pellè
Unused substitutes: Paulo Gazzaniga, Cuco Martina, James Ward-Prowse, Jason McCarthy
Booked: Tadić (60)
Goals: Pellè (36), Tadić (pen 45), Long (84)
Vitesse team: Eloy Room, Kelvin Leerdam, Guram Kashia (c), Rochdi Achenteh, Kevin Diks (Julian Lelieveld 90), Valeri Kazaishvili (Danilo Pantić 67), Deys Oliynyk, Marvelous Nakamba, Lewis Baker, Uros Djurdevic (Milot Rashica 60), Isiah Brown
Unused substitutes: Piet Velthuizen, Maikel van der Werff, Abiola Dauda, Mohammed Osman
Booked: Achenteh (45)
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano
Attendance: 30,850 (including 1,357 away)