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Southampton 4 Torquay United 1
SAINTS advanced to the second round of the Carling Cup, but this was a night tinged with a bit of sadness at St Mary’s.
The 4-1 victory over Torquay was an enjoyable spectacle, but it took place on the first anniversary of Markus Liebherr’s death.
A year ago today, the man who breathed new life into the club sadly passed away.
A lot has happened in the 12 months since he has been gone, notably a wonderful promotion to the Championship.
It is deeply unfortunate that Liebherr has not been around to enjoy the success.
But, in his absence, Saints have continued to move forward – as he always intended them to.
Had he still been with us, he would no doubt have been flashing that memorable, infectious, smile of his this week.
A return to the second tier, with a thumping opening day win over Leeds, and a League Cup first round success to boot, is a start to celebrate.
Even with the loss of Alex Chamberlain to Arsenal, it has been an upbeat week around the club, as the new season gets into its swing.
It is a shame Liebherr hasn’t been here to share the good feeling.
But his legacy lives on, and his contribution to the club should not be forgotten.
It hasn’t been by the supporters, who sung his name last night.
There weren’t many fans in the stadium, but they still made themselves heard.
The affection they hold for Liebherr remains clear, and will no doubt continue to be.
Another person the supporters must now also come to terms with the loss of is Chamberlain.
It was a sad moment to see another gem from the club’s academy disappear to pastures new.
It has been a familiar feeling over the years at Saints, and even the enormous transfer fee received for the teenager won’t completely sooth the blow.
Yet, despite his departure, life rolls on as normal at Saints, as the team continues to win.
Last night’s success marked an eighth consecutive victory in all competitions.
And, although Chamberlain’s pace, power and quality will undoubtedly be missed, Saints still have plenty of ability left in their ranks out wide.
Steve De Ridder scored his first goal for the club, and Lee Holmes produced an encouraging display down the left – his first appearance since November last year.
The masterful Adam Lallana also made a late cameo to help close out the match, although he featured at the top of a diamond rather than in his usual position on the left flank.
It wasn’t always easy for Saints, though.
At times, they looked shaky at the back, with the combination of Aaron Martin and Dan Seaborne at the heart of defence never looking particularly assured.
Jose Fonte’s return for the trip to Barnsley on Saturday should shore things up, though.
In the end, the scoreline for Saints screamed comfortable.
And, while they did accelerate away in the final stages, it wasn’t always simple.
Torquay play some attractive football, and have a couple of handy players – they should again do well in League Two this season.
But Saints still had enough to see them off, even with manager Nigel Adkins making eight changes from the side that beat Leeds 3-1 last Saturday.
They took the lead in the 16th minute through Belgian wide man De Ridder.
The summer signing was put through by Richard Chaplow, firing a low right foot shot across goal and into the far corner.
But the lead lasted just one minute, as Saints switched off at the back.
Ian Morris’ pinpoint cross from the left picked out unmarked midfielder Lee Mansell in the area, and he planted his header past Bartosz Bialkowski.
It wasn’t a proud moment for the back four.
But Saints were back in front in the 27th minute.
Mansell was the villain this time, fouling Morgan Schneiderlin 25 yards from goal.
A sharp-looking Rickie Lambert stepped up, curled the ball over the wall and past Torquay keeper Robert Olejnik.
The visitors had an equaliser ruled out for offside shortly before half-time, Taiwo Atieno disappointed to see the linesman’s flag deny his firm header from another delicious Morris cross.
A couple of minutes after the restart, Guly do Prado had the ball in the net for Saints, but he too was ruled offside after latching onto De Ridder’s through pass.
Saints were firmly in control by this point, with Torquay offering little threat.
But the home side were failing to put the Gulls to the sword, leaving open the possibility of a leveller.
And it nearly arrived in the 68th minute, as substitute Lathaniel Rowe-Turner found space down the left and crashed a shot into Bialkowski’s near post.
The Saints keeper then made a stunning save from Danny Stevens’ close-range header.
It was the highlight of an at times shaky night for the Polish stopper.
It proved to be a crucial save, as Saints then went straight up the other end and sealed the win.
The tenacious Chaplow was set free in space on the right and he calmly finished past Olejnik from a tight angle in the 81st minute.
Lallana, who had by this time come off the bench, then crashed a long-range effort against the crossbar.
The fourth goal did arrive deep into stoppage time, though, as sub Jonathan Forte slid in at the back post to turn in Chaplow’s cross.
It was all played out to a bit of an odd atmosphere, though. With just over 6,000 in attendance, the game felt a little bit like a friendly.
But Saints now advance to the second round of the competition, and will be looking to make their mark as some of the top flight teams enter the fray.