Boufal brings relief to Saints
SOUTHAMPTON: A superb goal by record signing Sofiane Boufal secured Southampton a much-needed 1-0 win over Middlesbrough in their Premier League match yesterday. Moroccan international Boufal - bought from French Ligue 1 side Lille in August for a reported £16 million ($20 million) - struck early in the secondhalf to give Saints just their second win in seven matches and provide some succor for exiting the Europa League last Thursday.
They move on to 20 points, eight clear of the relegation zone whilst Middlesbrough remain very much mired in a battle for survival as they are just three points clear of the bottom three. Boufal’s goal made up for the absence of Charlie Austin, who has accounted for nearly half their goals this season but was ruled out with a shoulder injury. Certainly spectators would not have been expecting a goal feast in the two sides’ first Premier League meeting since 2005 as they had each found the net only 13 times apiece before Sunday’s match.
Boro were also missing two of their most impressive performers from last Monday’s 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Hull, Gaston Ramirez and Alvaro Negredo, both of whom are injured. Jordan Rhodes almost made light of their absence immediately ghosting in with not a Saints defender in sight and firing a shot on target only for Fraser Forster to save. The hosts worked their way into the game after early Boro dominance and Jay Rodriguez forced Victor Valdes into a smart save just after the quarter of an hour mark.
Middlesbrough were denied by some stoical Southampton defending 10 minutes before the break as Viktor Fischer rounded Forster but his shot was blocked on the line and the follow up by Uruguayan Christhian Stuani was also stopped on the goal-line. Saints took advantage by taking the lead early in the second-half. Boufal, who was an injury doubt prior to the game, scoring with a superb left-footed effort from the edge of the area rounding off a move involving five players.
Middlesbrough were lacking in invention and ideas and it was the hosts who came closest to scoring again, veteran Northern Ireland midfielder Steven Davis being picked out by Cuco Martina, but his header went over the bar. Rodriguez went even closer with another header but Adam Clayton reacted brilliantly to clear it off the line. Rodriguez may have been unlucky there but he was guilty of a complete howler in time added on as Nathan Redmond did brilliantly to square the ball across the goal line but Rodriguez managed to somehow spoon it over from a yard out.