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Charlie Austin scored twice as Southampton secured their first win under manager Claude Puel by beating Sparta Prague in the Europa League.
Austin opened the scoring with a controversial penalty after Costa Nhamoinesu was harshly adjudged to have handled while challenging the striker.
Dusan Tadic had to be ushered away after arguing about who should take the penalty but celebrated with Austin.
Austin’s header made it 2-0 before Jay Rodriguez added a late third.
Austin makes his point
Puel has endured a frustrating start to his managerial reign at Southampton after two draws and two defeats, including Saturday’s last-minute loss at Arsenal.
But this was a highly satisfactory night for the Frenchman as the Saints secured a comfortable Group K win with Austin, who has started just one league game this season, causing chaos with his pace and accurate finishing.
The 27-year-old looked like a player with a point to prove as he scored twice in 22 first-half minutes, the first a controversial penalty awarded after Nhamoinesu was ruled to have handled while challenging Austin on the edge of the area.
German referee Manuel Grafe originally awarded a corner only to change his mind and point to the spot.
More drama was to follow as Austin’s team-mate Tadic had to be guided away by captain Virgil van Dijk after arguing over who should take the kick.
Austin sent keeper Tomas Koubek the wrong way from the spot before the former QPR striker headed his second from the edge of the six-yard area after Cuco Martina’s clever cross.
Having scored the winner at Manchester United last January, Austin has now found the net on both his Premier League and Europa League debuts for Southampton.
What did Puel learn?
Sparta Prague offered very little threat in a match which at times resembled a training game.
The Czech visitors forced just one save from Fraser Forster, who beat away substitute David Lafata’s first-time effort when the score was 2-0.
Puel made seven changes to the side that started against Arsenal yet there was an intensity and a desire as his fringe players left him with plenty to ponder.
Tadic and Austin were lively throughout while Shane Long capped an impressive individual display by setting up substitute Rodriguez to turn home Saints’ third from close range.
The win takes Southampton top of the group ahead of their trip to Israel to face Hapoel Be’er Sheva, who won 2-0 away at Inter Milan, on 29 September.
Man of the match – Charlie Austin (Southampton)
What they said…
Southampton striker Charlie Austin on taking the penalty: “As a centre-forward I think I should take the penalties. I’ve come here full of confidence, even though I’ve not scored.
“I put the ball on the spot and luckily it gave us a 1-0 lead. I think it was a bit silly from me and Dusan, but I’ll take the penalties in future.”
Southampton boss Claude Puel on the argument over the penalty: “They can discuss together; if all the time you put the ball in the goal it’s OK. For me it’s not important.”
On the performance: “It was a great performance. We played a very good team of technical players. It was difficult but the penalty at the start of the game helped us on to good things.”
Will this win kick-start Southampton’s season? We’ll soon find out. They entertain Swansea City at St Mary’s on Sunday (14:15 BST).
- Shots on Target
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