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Southampton's Champions League dream a score too short

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Southampton's unlikely bid to join Europe's elite ultimately derailed by lack of firepower

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If the chance of Champions League qualification for Southampton was unlikely before the Stoke game last Saturday, the dream would have been shattered beyond all repair when Charlie Adam's volley flew past Kelvin Davis.

With the faint hopes of going to Manchester City for a winner-takes-all clash on the final day being blown away like an Asmir Begović clearance over Artur Boruc, the same wind also brings with it a sense of self-reflection over a season coming towards its final conclusion.

The Saints fans who filed out of the Britannia Stadium late last Saturday afternoon will have been frustrated after seeing the team lose (the first time Saints have lost after going in front this season) but the truth of the matter is that Saints struggled to make an impression on Stoke's goal.

Morgan Schneiderlin's tap-in and Dusan Tadić's chance that was cleared off the line aside, Ronald Koeman's men didn't look likely to build on their 22nd minute lead, and whilst the Mame Biram Diouf equalizer had more of it's fair share of luck about it and Adam's winner wasn't exactly "beautiful" football, but the simple thing is Stoke won the game.

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Whilst no Saints fan would want to change the way that Koeman sets out his team to play fast, attacking football with the priority on keeping possession like the Barcelona style the Dutchman has more than experience playing in, never mind coaching, the Southampton boss will have to have to a look at how the team can score more goals.

A brief glance at the "Goals Scored" column will show Southampton have scored 45 goals so far in the league this season, matching their 7th place in the league table, on closer inspection there is more to be concerned with.

The "Goals Conceded" column still shows that the Saints defence has conceded two less than Chelsea and still sit top of the tree in that respect much to the credit of Koeman, his backroom staff and the players themselves, the 8-0 demolition of Sunderland back in October inflates the goals scored figure by more than 20 per cent.

Many would argue, rightly, that you can't just take away those goals and that Southampton playing  Sunderland at home is normally predicted by Saints fans as a home win, but for argument's sake, let's just say that 8-0 was a more respectable, and more likely, 2-0 win. Saints would still sit in 7th place on 56 points, but 39 goals in 33 games would be a rather more worrying figure.

Pellè is the top goalscorer for Saints this season with 13 in all competitions.

Pellè is the top goalscorer for Saints this season with 13 in all competitions.

39 goals would see Southampton come in tenth place in that alternative table; not that much difference, but that figure would see Southampton having scored one more goal than the "hard-to-beat but not free-scoring" Stoke and a Wilfried Bony-less Swansea, and three less than Crystal Palace and West Ham, who've spiralled out of form ever since Big Sam Allardyce took his first stab at the Christmas turkey.

A look further down that table, and 39 goals is only just five more than relegation-threatened Leicester and incredibly one more than QPR, who were it not for Charlie Austin would have surely dead and buried by now.

The instant reaction to a lack of goals is to put the blame firmly at the feet of the strikers; after all, scoring goals is what strikers are predominantly signed to do, and Graziano Pellè's shocking run of form in front of goal since that Sunderland has been well-documented.

But to solely blame a striker, who two goal-laden seasons at Feyenoord aside hasn't been anywhere near deemed as prolific, in his first season in a brand new team, country, culture: you get the idea. Nine goals in the Premier League is lower than what should be expected for a team in the top ten, but he hasn't had much support from his team-mates.

Sadio Mané has been a vital player since Christmas going forward

Sadio Mané has been a vital player since Christmas in terms of goals.

Sadio Mané has had a very good return for a wide-forward since Christmas, having scored five since Boxing Day after initial teething problems settling into the team, but the rest of the team have looked pretty goal-shy.

Shane Long's lack of minutes after signing from Hull in the summer doesn't mean that his tally of three goals is completely acceptable, and Tadić's four goals have been rare but has looked like he'd been carrying an injury as the winter kicked in, and the goals against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have all been very important.

The midfielders have no excuse, as Victor Wanyama's goal against Hull on November 1st was the last time any of the middle three for Southampton scored in open play, with James Ward-Prowse only just recently breaking his duck from the penalty spot. Steven Davis may have won fans over with efficient displays since his move from Glasgow Rangers almost three years ago, but with no goals at all this campaign and his last assist coming just before Christmas (having made ten last season in all competitions), his place in the Southampton lineup looks much more vulnerable with his current poor form.

Steven Davis needs to be more than just tidy in possession.

Steven Davis needs to be more than just tidy in possession.

Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne have a more respectable two goals each this season, but for a defender who is a key part of Southampton's attacking verve, the fact that Clyne has no assists this season should ring alarm bells; either his crosses haven't been good, or the chances he creates aren't being taken.

Scoring goals is the toughest part of the game, and having lost the combined 37 goals that Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez, only just coming back to full training after his horrific anterior cruciate ligament injury last April, had plundered last season, but the fact remains that Saints have to improve their attacking prowess next season.

Having been linked with QPR's Charlie Austin and Man Utd outcast Javier Hernandez is a step in the right direction, the former having scored so many for a team struggling at the foot of the table, and Tonny Vilhena looking likely to be joining Pellè and Koeman in making the move to St Mary's from Feyenoord, Saints fans will hope the young attacking midfielder will add more creativity to an otherwise industrious but almost midfield.

Finishing off teams that have come to St Mary's looking to play on the break this year has been a real thorn in Koeman's side, but with more creativity and goals to go with it should make Southampton a much more dangerous side to play against. If the defence can continue to be watertight and the Europa League pathway can be negotiated well, perhaps that Champions League qualification dream won't just be a figment of the imagination...