FC Midtjylland Home
I can’t readily think of an earlier occasion when Ronald Koeman has been out-thought tactically, but the consensus seems to be that the starting team against Everton was too weak physically in key areas. So to Midtjylland (who have, not surprisingly, completely fooled my spell-checker), and the considerable speculations about their strategies – and all too polite to suggest that they are a Danish version of Stoke City, Tony Pulis era. A back line of Yoshida, Fonte, Caulker and Targett seemed to be selected to deal with the visitors’ long throw and set piece plays while Romeu and Ward-Prowse shored up the midfield, with Rodriguez also providing more of a presence up front. Somehow Mané found himself wide on the left rather than in his usual somewhere-close-to- Pellè role – that seemed a mistake as Pellè looked capable of bringing colleagues into the game but no-one was close enough. Overall Saints weren’t offering much of a threat but the secret of success in two-legged games is not to panic and, above all, to keep a clean sheet at home. They had to be grateful to Stekelenburg to preserve that and the team were just looking to dominate as we had expected when disaster struck with the very last play before the interval: a poor headed clearance fell into the area hitherto patrolled by Schneiderlin but only ex-Saint Sparv was there to fire in a true shot into the corner, with no defenders able to block. Most of the ground assumed we had an equaliser when Caulker headed in a corner, only for referee Turpin to penalise him. Instead we had to wait until the 57th minute for Monsieur Turpin to intervene on our behalf with a penalty for a trip on Ward-Prowse on the edge of the box; in the absence of Tadić, Rodriguez stepped up and never looked like missing. Saints could have gone on to win but Dahlin saved from Caulker and Yoshida either hit the outside of the post or had his header saved deep into a generous dollop of added time. Best opportunity of all, though, fell to Targett who has had a difficult start to the campaign and failed to make the most of a great chance to get back on track.
So a challenging away leg beckons, with Saints having to score at least once. The club’s history in Europe is long inasmuch as it goes back to 1969, but not illustrious: we’ve won just six ties, and only one (Limerick United) where we failed to triumph in the home leg.
LSSC Man of the Match: James Ward-Prowse: a difficult choice, but he was one of few players who did as well as expected of them.