Saints aim for Europe after Swansea win

Southampton's Shane Long (left) heading home against Swansea in the 69th minute to score the game's only goal and help his side to a 1-0 away win.
Southampton's Shane Long (left) heading home against Swansea in the 69th minute to score the game's only goal and help his side to a 1-0 away win. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

LONDON • Southampton manager Ronald Koeman believes his side can qualify for next season's Champions League, after the Saints climbed to within one point of the European places with a 1-0 win at Swansea on Saturday.

Shane Long nodded home a cross from James Ward-Prowse in the 69th minute at the Liberty Stadium, as Southampton stretched their unbeaten streak in the English Premier League to six games.

"If Leicester can win the title, then we can finish fourth or fifth," Koeman said, in reference to the surprise leaders.

"We are only one point below (fifth-placed) Manchester United after today and my team are looking very comfortable. We had a difficult start to the season and a difficult period in December, but we are back fighting and looking to finish as high as possible in the table."

Southampton are seven points off the Champions League berths, but fourth-placed Manchester City could stretch the gap when they hosted Tottenham late yesterday.

The Saints, however, have been buoyed by their defensive prowess. During this undefeated period, they have not conceded a single goal, extending their clean-sheet run beyond the 500-minute mark.

Fraser Forster has been key - the goalkeeper has a 100 per cent saves-to-shots ratio in the league this term, the highest of any stopper to have faced 15 or more shots on target.

"It's not normal to have six clean sheets in a row," said Koeman, whose side allowed just two shots on target on Saturday. "But we are working hard, we have good defensive organisation. It's difficult to create open chances against us, you saw that today."

Swansea, beaten for the first time since Francesco Guidolin's appointment as head coach, remain 16th but are now only three points above the bottom three. They visit Tottenham and Arsenal in their next two games.

"For the first time in my five matches, I saw my team play not very well," said the Italian. "Congratulations to Southampton because they are a good team, but I think we can do better.

"We knew the characteristics of Southampton and they are dangerous in some situations and they play well in this period - five victories, six clean sheets - they beat a lot of teams, not just us. I have to work next week to have a team ready for the next match."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'Saints aim for Europe after Swansea win'. Print Edition | Subscribe