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STEAUA 1 - SAINTS 0
2:02pm Tuesday 30th May 2006 in 03-04 Season
Southampton's first European adventure for 19 years came to an abrupt end last night.
Claudiu Raducanu scored the only goal seven minutes from time as Steaua progressed to the second round following their 1-1 draw at St Mary's last month.
Saints came into this game knowing they had to score to stay in the UEFA Cup. They had their chances, three of which were golden opportunities, but they were ultimately left ruing the vital misses.
Steaua were expected to approach the game in a very defensive frame of mind, looking to cling on to a 0-0 but, although that was the scoreline for most of the match, they played fairly neutrally.
Early on they came close with a deflected shot, but Fabrice Fernandes looked dangerous and almost crafted Saints a goal.
Starting for the first time in a couple of years on the left of midfield, he cut inside on eight minutes and fired a shot which leapt at the keeper.
Four minutes later the recalled Rory Delap found Fernandes with a neat pass, but his awkward looking left wing cross was cut-out by the sliding Mirel Radoi.
James Beattie fired a 40- yard free-kick straight at Vasili Hamutovski before Saints had to withstand a prolonged spell of Steaua pressure.
Antti Niemi showed good handling on a wet and greasy surface to keep out Valeriu Rachita's free kick while the Saints defence then marshalled a succession of four corners as the home team, fervently supported, piled on the pressure.
The game found a natural rhythm as both sides vied for supremacy and searched for an opening with quick passing and both sides keen to stretch the play out to the wings.
Paul Telfer fired wide on the half hour mark after Kevin Phillips' left wing cross, while the latter saw his looping header clear the bar moments later from Jason Dodd's deep cross.
But all these were half chances compared to what was to come for both sides before half-time.
With 33 minutes gone Marian Aliuta, a little box of tricks in the centre of the Steaua midfield, released Gabriel Bostina in on goal.
But Bostina, through facing Niemi to the left of the six-yard box, slipped and the ball simply trickled behind.
For Saints, Phillips spurned a fantastic opportunity just before the break when he was set free by Fernandes.
Through one-on-one with Hamutovski, he forced the keeper into a good save but it wasn't the clinical finish you hope for from the former England man in his last game before a three-match suspension.
Saints came out for the second half with added determination.
And it took only four minutes for a wonderful opportunity to present itself.
Danny Higginbotham's deep cross from the left was met by the head of Beattie but he didn't make a clean connection and the ball broke for Delap.
The Irishman was four yards out and just needed to get any sort of touch on the ball to turn it in, but somehow he missed it altogether and the chance rolled wide.
Anders Svensson and Phillips then threatened before Steaua had Saints momentarily worried with a scuffed volley and a drive from distance.
With 67 minutes on the clock came the third great chance for Saints when Fernandes' inswinging cross from the right found the unmarked Michael Svensson at close range at the far post, but he missed the target with his header.
At this point Steaua replaced attacking midfielder Aliuta with defensive midfielder N'Gassam Nana Falemi - their best player at St Mary's and who was a pre-match injury doubt.
The message was clear - now Steaua didn't want to concede. Perhaps surprisingly, though, Saints didn't make any changes until four minutes from time.
Things were starting to look more desperate for Saints, but they only needed one goal. Telfer, Phillips and Delap all put efforts just wide before the hosts grabbed the winner.
After Hamutovski punched clear, the Romanians launched a quick counter attack. Dodd was left in a tricky position having to decide whether to run forward from the halfway line and try and get a loose ball he might not have got to.
He opted to let Steaua have possession and retain his position.
But the Romanians flew up the pitch and rolled in a low cross for Raducanu to slide in from eight yards.
Steaua celebrated wildly but things hadn't changed for Saints - if they scored they were still in the competition.
Phillips was the one that looked most likely, Beattie having been replaced by Jo Tessem.
Despite missing chances last night, conceding in the first 20 minutes at St Mary's was what ultimately led to Saints' downfall.
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