SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Southampton underlined their status as the south coast’s pre-eminent force as in-form Graziano Pelle inspired a 2-0 win over local rivals Bournemouth on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Ronald Koeman’s side struck twice in the space of five minutes late in the first half when Steven Davis finished off a fine move started by Pelle, who then notched his ninth club goal of the season to double the lead.
Southampton played the last 12 minutes at St Mary’s with 10 men after Victor Wanyama was sent off for a second booking, but they were able to hold on with few alarms.
While the local bragging rights were a welcome bonus, more significantly Southampton are up to seventh in the Premier League after extending their unbeaten run to seven matches in all competitions.
In contrast, Bournemouth’s fourth defeat in their last five league games leaves Eddie Howe’s side one place and one point above the relegation zone in their maiden top-flight campaign.
With Southampton’s traditional enemies Portsmouth currently languishing in the fourth tier and Brighton in the Championship, Bournemouth’s promotion had at last given Saints a local rival to spar with.
Although no-one would place this fledgling rivalry in the same category as the fierce clashes between Manchester United and Manchester City or Arsenal and Tottenham, there was a noticable buzz of anticipation in the streets around St Mary’s, along with a highly visible police presence to keep the peace.
Inside the stadium, Bournemouth’s raucous supporters were making the most of the occasion, but their out-classed team were unable to mark the first meeting of the clubs for four years with a first-ever win at Southampton.
Koeman’s men were buoyant after a midweek victory over Aston Villa that took them into the League Cup quarter-finals and it was little surprise they made the stronger start against a Bournemouth team whose last two league matches had ended in 5-1 thrashings against Manchester City and Tottenham.
Sadio Mane twice came close to rewarding Southampton’s early pressure, but the Senegal winger’s goalbound shot was blocked by Sylvain Distin before his second effort from Pelle’s knockdown flashed just over.
After their recent struggles, Bournemouth had arrived in damage-limitation mode with five strung across midfield in the hope of stifling Saints’ creativity.
But Howe’s team couldn’t cope with the swift passing and intelligent movement of the hosts, who broke the deadlock in the 31st minute.
It was a beautifully-constructed goal started by Pelle’s clever flick to pick out Ryan Bertrand and as the defender whipped over a teasing cross from the left, Northern Ireland midfielder Davis timed his run perfectly to crash his shot past Adam Federici.
There was no let-up from Koeman’s side and they doubled their lead five minutes later when Bournemouth’s over-run defence reacted too slowly to Dusan Tadic’s cross and Pelle powered his header into the far corner.
Pelle celebrated in style, sprinting over to the bench to imitate the World Cup-winning All Blacks’ Haka war-dance with Southampton’s Kiwi masseur Graeme Staddon.
Saints goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was completely untested in the first half and Howe responded by sending on Joshua King and Junior Stanislas at the interval.
Howe’s positive changes gave Bournemouth a more dynamic feel and, with Southampton content to protect their lead, the visitors were suddenly controlling possession.
Stanislas curled a free-kick just wide and Bournemouth were given further encouragement when Kenya midfielder Wanyama saw red for chopping down Lee Tomlin.
But for all Bournemouth’s territorial dominance, there was never much doubt Southampton would remain the region’s top dogs.