Forty minutes before kick-off on the crest of the Itchen bridge a fan on his way to St. Mary’s stadium stops momentarily to take a photograph of one of the tower blocks rising up spectacularly on both sides of the river. Rejoining the stream of red and white he perhaps doesn’t consider the significance, but it’s a striking one. The city, some 2000 years old has continually dealt with change. Sometimes gradual, or sometimes sudden like the boom which came with the docks and railway, and sometimes even violent like the destruction of the blitz which reduced large amounts of the city to rubble. Rising up on the site of an old shipyard and an old dock the towers themselves are a reminder of the city’s changing face.
The football club is no different. Change here can also come in many forms. It might be signing a few players in the summer, or it can be in the case of Southampton the loss of your executive director, manager and the core of your squad. In any case the club continues and rebuilds.
At the helm is new boss Ronald Koeman introduced to the crowd ahead of the kick off and asked for a few words. Obligingly Koeman, like a person eager to impress at a job interview, dutiful comes out with what he is expected to say about the club and the league and the great opportunity this all presents. Home débuts were also handed to three new players Ryan Bertrand, Graziano Pelle, and Dusan Tadic with Saphir Taider waiting on the bench.
The first half saw some fluent passing football and although Saints chances were few – Yoshida hitting the post and James Ward-Prowse having an opportunity charged down by the fast-acting Leverkusen ‘keeper after being put through by an impressive Steven Davis – Leverkusen – Champions League finalists in 2002 – similarly had few clear efforts with Boruc escaping into the half-time dressing room largely untested.
Graziano Pelle – cover star of the ‘matchday magazine’ – however, had perhaps a home début to forget as he scored an own-goal from a corner-kick driven in low early in the second half. Boruc, wrong-footed could only push it upwards into the net. With no discernible away crowd the goal was greeted by silence it’s only acknowledgement coming from the celebrations of the Leverkusen players.
The game, as a competitive spectacle did not last much beyond this as both sides began making large amounts of substitutions. Ramirez and Taider appeared to be the most effective of the Saints with Taider performing well and Ramirez troubling the Leverkusen defence. Mayuka, introduced on 77 minutes was also involved in several attacking moves down the left.
Ending 1-0 to the visitors it was clear that some work still needs to be done. A centre back and striker are said to be to high on Koeman’s list of priorities and almost immediately after the game it was also announced that the £10 million signing of England goalkeeper Fraser Forster had been completed. Like the city the process of renewal is never ending.