Jay Rodriguez’s brilliant long-range goal handed Saints a 1-1 draw with Espanyol in the final friendly match of pre-season.
The striker who started his first senior match at St Mary’s since 29th March 2014, struck an 85th minute equaliser to give the hosts a share of the spoils in a competitive warm-up encounter with the Spaniards.
Espanyol held a 1-0 half-time lead in the game thanks to a low strike from Salva Sevilla after 11 minutes, but never seriously threatened to add to that strike, as Saints bided their time to get the goal that the home crowd had been waiting for.
Many players got a decent run-out in the contest to-boot which will no doubt help Saints’ preparations for their Barclays Premier League opener at Newcastle United in a week’s time.
Saints fielded a reasonably fresh starting eleven from the team that started the win over Vitesse in the Europa League on Thursday. Kelvin Davis began in goal, while recent loan signing Steven Caulker slotted in alongside captain José Fonte in the centre of defence.
Cuco Martina also made his St Mary’s bow at right back, with fellow summer addition Juanmi joining him for a first home start.
Pellè and Juanmi got the match under way with the hosts attacking the Northam stand on a bright and sunny south coast afternoon.
Saints started well as they looked to get forward early on, with Espanyol goalkeeper Pau Lopez tested as early as the fifth minute when debutant Caulker’s long ball was flicked on by Pellè, into the path of Long, whose first time scuffed effort was saved low to Lopez’s left.
A couple of minutes later both Pellè and Juanmi linked up well, while Rodriguez also gave the crowd a few glimpses of his sharpness with a few well-timed runs in behind the visitors’ defence.
Espanyol opened the scoring however on 11 minutes when a cross-field ball wasn’t dealt with, and a slight flick from Paco Montanes saw the ball arrive at Salva Sevilla’s feet, and the winger did the rest inside the area with a crisp finish underneath Kelvin Davis for 1-0.
Chances were few and far between fro the rest of the half after that strike, though Saints continued to show more promise in their play, with Ward-Prowse and Cuco Martina each working the right channel to good effect.
Ward-Prowse struck an effort on the turn in the 16th minute which just dropped over the crossbar, while he later saw a free-kick gathered by Lopez from around 30 yards out.
Shane Long saw a shot blocked by legs of Lopez on 22 minutes and the goalkeeper was alert again soon after to deny Caulker from finding the net with a header as the shot stopper helped to keep the visitors in control heading into half-time.
Chasing a one goal deficit in the second 45 minutes, Ronald Koeman made six changes to his Saints team at the break, with Paulo Gazzaniga, Maya Yoshida, Harrison Reed, Josh Debayo, Dušan Tadić and Sadio Mané all entering the action.
There remained little in the way of chances immediately after the start until the 55th minute when Juanmi bent a shot wide of the far post after inter-changing a short corner with Ward-Prowse.
Just before the hour mark, Sevilla attempted to double his money for the afternoon with a high shot which narrowly cleared Gazzaniga’s crossbar. That was Sevilla’s last action of the match as he was one of four players substituted by the visitors soon after.
Among those entering the fray was Mexican international Hector Moreno, who replaced Antonio Raillo at centre back.
Alvaro Gonzalez was booked for a trip on Mané, and although the free-kick came to nothing, Mané kept the move alive, only to see his low cross held by Lopez.
Saints pushed on again with Ward-Prowse finding Juanmi with a clever chip into the area, but the Spaniard was challenged just as he went to pull the trigger on the volley from ten yards out.
The best was saved until last though, with Rodriguez announcing his return in style by firing home a brilliant long-range strike to level the scores with five minutes to play.
Esapnyol were not happy at the decision to allow play to go on in the build-up to the goal as they felt Martina had fouled one of their forwards, but you could take nothing away from the finish which brought the St Mary’s crowd to its feet
Southampton team: Kelvin Davis (Paulo Gazzaniga 46), Cuco Martina, José Fonte (c) (Maya Yoshida 46), Steven Caulker (Jason McCarthy 78), Matt Targett (Josh Debayo 46), Victor Wanyama (Harrison Reed 46), James Ward-Prowse, Juanmi, (Sam McQueen 78) Shane Long (Dušan Tadić 46), Jay Rodrguez, Graziano Pellè (Sadio Mané 46)
Unused substitutes: Cédric Soares, Steven Davis
Goal: Rodriguez (85)
Espanyol team: Pau Lopez, Anaitz Arbilla (Jordan Moreno 74), Ruben Duarte, Antonio Raillo (Hector Moreno 62), Alvaro Gonzalez, Javi Lopez (c) Hernan Perez (62), Montanes (Jose Canas 62), Victor Sanchez, Felipe Caicedo (Burgui 74), Salva Sevilla (Abraham Gonzalez 62), Victor Alvarez
Unused substitutes: German Parreno, Bardi, Lluis Lopez, Caballe, Alex
Booked: Alvaro Gonzalez (72), Jordan Moreno (86)
Goal: Sevilla (11)
Referee: Michael Jones