A superb individual goal from Sofiane Boufal saw Southampton beat a resilient West Brom at St Mary’s this evening.
The Moroccan ran from one end of the pitch to the other five minutes from time, beating beating several defenders before calmly slotting the ball beyond the helpless Ben Foster.
It gave Southampton a deserved win, in an improved home performance in which they dominated the Baggies for much of the game.
Tony Pulis’ team defended manfully for 85 minutes, as Saints again struggled to make vastly superior possession count, but they will feel they earned their win.
The home team created and spurned several chances in the game, with Ryan Bertrand hitting the bar from a well struck free kick, and Oriol Romeu, Dusan Tadic and Maya Yoshida also wasting good chances.
West Brom offered little attacking threat, with former Saint Jay Rodriguez fluffing two good second half chances, hitting shots well wide of the mark. Nacer Chadli’s instinctive 72nd minute effort was tipped over by Fraser Forster, who endured another shaky afternoon between the sticks.
Despite heading into half time goalless again at St Mary’s, Southampton were more positive than in recent home encounters.
A bright start saw Gareth Barry lash an effort over from range, and Yoshida head over at the back post following a corner.
Southampton dominated possession and looked to feed in Shane Long and Manolo Gabbiadini, who made runs into the channel all afternoon.
The first real chance came by way of Bertrand’s curling free kick 20 minutes in, hitting the angle of the post off of Johnny Evans’ head in the wall.
Romeu then couldn’t quite turn the ball in following Steven Davis’ inswinging corner. Virgil van Dijk made a nuisance of himself in the box, with the ball spilling to his fellow center back, who couldn’t quite adjust his body to sneak the ball home.
Italian Gabbiadini led a brilliant counter attack before the half hour mark, collecting the ball on the half way line, holding off the defender brilliantly and driving into the box. Long, a man who cannot buy a goal, raced up with his strike partner, was fed in right in front of the keeper but his luck again evaded him and he couldn’t turn it in.
Evans went off injured for Allan Nyom, and Southampton continued to search for an opener. Bertrand played the ball to Long, who in turn fed Tadic in the box. As is so often the case with the Serbian, he missed the opportunity to take the chance early. Yoshida again went close from the resulting corner, forcing a smart save from Ben Foster. The Japanese defender then tried an acrobatic overhead kick, his accuracy not matching the audacity of the effort.
Saints picked up where they left off after the break, Cedric Soares nearly finding Gabbiadini with a cross with the Italian unable to steer the ball home. The forward then spun out and attempted to curl an effort in from a good angle, with Long repeating the trick moments later - both men lacking confidence and failing to score.
West Brom enjoyed a good spell following a tactical switch from Tony Pulis, who replaced Gareth Barry with Gareth McAuley 50 minutes in. The move caught Saints by surprise, with Rodriguez nearly benefiting twice from the confusion. Salomon Rondon, absent for most of the afternoon, cutely nodded back to Rodriguez, who snatched his chance well wide. Later, his well timed run beat the Southampton press and he looked clean through on goal, but again fluffed his lines with a scuffed shot.
Forster then twice failed to make regulation catches on the hour mark, coming off his line to collect but spilling the ball in the process. Luckily for him, his team managed to scramble the ball away.
With the game drifting, Mauricio Pelligrino took off Romeu for Nathan Redmond and the winger went close with a curling effort, cutting in from the left wing as he so often does. Yet, it was the substitution of Sofiane Boufal - on for Tadic - that proved crucial.
The Serbian looked to be taking an unnecessary risk with possession in his own half, under pressure from opposition players. Yet, Boufal kept possession brilliantly and led a swift counter attack up the field. Slaloming between defenders, the Moroccan took the ball right up to the West Brom box, cut in, and coolly slotted the ball into the far post.
It was a moment of magic, followed by him running towards his manager to emphasise why he feels he should be starting in more games. There was no need, the quality of the goal was enough by itself.
Pulis called up a supposed Mario Lemina foul in the build up, yet referee Graham Scott performed well and saw nothing in it.
Boufal, full of confidence, enjoyed a fine finish to the match. But for Redmond’s unfortunate slip, the Moroccan would have found his team mate in acres of space. Later, Charlie Austin nearly capitalised on Boufal’s great work, collecting the winger’s pass before rounding the ‘keeper and hitting the post from a tight angle.
While confidence in front of goal - and the form of Forster - remain issues, this was an improved performance for much of the contest. Yet, without the magic of Boufal, who must start the next game, Mauricio Pellegrino would be under pressure after a indifferent start to his St Mary’s tenure.
As it is, Saints move into the top half of the table - four points off fourth - and will head to Brighton next week with confidence.
Saints: Forster; Cerdic, van Dijk, Yoshida, Bertrand; Romeu (Redmond 69), Lemina Tadic (Boufal 81), Davis (c); Long (Austin 81), Gabbiadini.
Subs: McCarthy, Hoedt, McQueen, Ward-Prowse, Boufal, Austin, Redmond.
WBA: Foster; Dawson, Hegazi, Evans (c) (Nyom 32), Gibbs; Livermore, Krychowiak, Barry (McAuley 53); Rodriguez, Rondon, Chadli (Phillips 77).
Subs: Myhill, Nyom, McAuley, Yacob, Phillips, Brunt, McClean.