Date: 11th March 2016 at 11:23am
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There was a sense of inevitability that, after an afternoon dominating possession and missed chances, experienced striker Jermain Defoe would silence the boos of the Southampton fans and score the opener for Sunderland.

The ex-Pompey man is one of the few real poachers left in the game, in an era where strikers have to do more than score goals. When he was introduced with half an hour to go at St Mary’s last weekend, he was greeted with boos because of his past at Fratton Park; he retaliated in some style.

His Southampton counterpart Graziano Pelle is at the other end of the scale. Whereas Defoe can always be relied upon to grab a goal even from the bench, the Italian’s goalscoring comes in peaks and troughs.

After a decent start to the season which saw the striker score semi-regularly, like the season before, the bleak winter rolled in and saw Pelle’s goals dry up, mirroring what happened a year before.

Four months without scoring took its toll on Ronald Koeman’s side last season, but the difference this campaign is that Pelle is no longer as important to how the team plays.

And with only a year left on his contract, it is more than likely that the Italian is going to wave goodbye to the South Coast of England to return to the peninsula and Serie A this summer.

i9 August 2015 - Barclays Premier League - Newcastle United v Southampton - Graziano Pelle of Southampton celebrates scoring the opening goal with team-mates - Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Graziano Pelle has found goals hard to come by in recent times despite making a positive start to the campaign. Photo: Marc Atkins/Offside.

Pelle arrived in England to many questions; he may have scored a bucketful under the tutelage of Koeman at Feyenoord, but his spell at De Kuip was his only spell where he had been prolific. Would he go the way of fellow Eredivisie imports Luis Suarez and Wilfried Bony, or more Afonso Alves and Mateja Kezman?

The truth is the striker has more than paid off his £6 million fee; he filled the hole left by the departure of Rickie Lambert, and his goal output guided Southampton through what could have been a very difficult season following an exodus of established players.

But Saints are a more settled club now; they may sell players like any club not in the upper echelons of the Champions League, but not to the extent of 2014. They seem to have to steadied themselves somewhat.

Europe is now a realistic aim, but to get there Koeman’s side need to be more clinical in front of goal. Despite having a defence that has leaked only four less than in the whole of last season, Southampton still have the third best defence in the league behind Tottenham and Manchester United.

Yet in terms of goals scored, the Saints lie in tenth and that is where the problem is. A run of six clean sheets may have yielded 13 points recently, but only twice in that run did they score more than once.

That is where Pelle comes in. Whilst he would seem like the perfect plan B to bring off the bench, much like his predecessor Lambert, both of them need to be playing regularly or they become rusty.

Whilst Shane Long has come through a renaissance at St Mary’s to go from back-up winger to first choice striker, the rest of the front line needs freshening up.

30 August 2015 - Barclays Premier League - Southampton v Norwich City - Sadio Mane of Southampton - Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Southampton’s frontline (including Sadio Mane) needs a shake-up in the summer. Photo: Marc Atkins/Offside.

Sadio Mane is inconsistent and can’t be relied upon as the main outlet of goals, especially if he is granted a move this summer to pastures new, whilst both Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin have had well-documented issues with injuries this season.

It means that another striker is likely to be a priority this summer, but with a frontline seemingly fully-stocked, it is most likely Pelle who will be sacrificed. With Austin likely to be the tall forward, a different option is going to be required.

Aside from Mane none of the aforementioned options, bar Rodriguez who has spent nigh-on two years injured, can really carry the ball at pace, and that may be the kind of striker that Saints need.

Finding a striker who has pace to burn but is ice-cool in front of goal and in Southampton’s price range will be no mean feat, but for a club that sees regular European football as the next step it is important to find that kind of player.

The club’s football under former centre-back Koeman has been more about defensive solidarity than typical Dutch-style attacking flair, even for someone renowned for his time at Barcelona, but now the Saints need an attacker that will strike fear into the hearts of opponents.

Unfortunately, Pelle doesn’t do that in the Premier League but the St Mary’s faithful would know all about strikers who scare the opposition; just ask them what they think of Jermaine Defoe.

 
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