Graziano Pelle silences critics with two goals for Southampton at Stoke
Graziano Pelle ended his four-month goal drought by scoring twice to inspire Southampton to an impressive 2-1 win at in-form Stoke on Saturday.
Pelle's superb double silenced the Italian striker's critics and revived Southampton's flagging hopes of a securing a place in Europe next season.
It was the first time Pelle had scored more than once in a Premier League away game and helped end Southampton's three-match winless run which had derailed their bid for a top-six finish.
The only downside for manager Ronald Koeman was seeing substitute Sadio Mane become the latest Southampton player to pick up a red card after being harshly sent off in the closing stages.
Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Fraser Forster, 6 -- The England goalkeeper would have expected a more difficult afternoon. Made one good save to deny Marko Arnautovic but was powerless to keep out the Austrian playmaker's second-half goal.
DF Cuco Martina, 6 -- Preferred to Cedric Soares and Maya Yoshida at right-back and enjoyed a competitive battle with the tricky Arnautovic.
DF Virgil van Dijk, 8 -- Challenged by Koeman to step up and take the lead role at the back in the absence of suspended captain Jose Fonte and responded with another dominant display, the latest in a series of excellent performances. Superb block to dent Mame Diouf epitomised his whole-hearted offering.
DF Ryan Bertrand, 6 -- Did a sound defensive job as a makeshift centre-back alongside Van Dijk but the positional swap denied him the chance to roam forward as he loves to do when employed in his favoured left-back role.
DF Matt Targett, 7 -- Recalled to the starting lineup as Koeman had to move Bertrand inside and took his opportunity with both hands, defending solidly and getting forward to join the attack whenever he could.
MF Oriol Romeu, 6 -- The former Chelsea man was quietly effective in front of the Southampton defence without doing anything eye-catching. Fired well wide with one wayward shot.
MF Jordy Clasie, 6 -- Worked hard in a congested midfield battle. Picked up a deserved yellow card for a rash tackle on Erik Pieters.
MF Dusan Tadic, 7 -- Was the creator of Pelle's second goal with a neat one-two routine. Should have put the game out of Stoke's reach before half -time but got caught dithering in the box when it looked easier to slot home. Had a strong penalty appeal turned down.
MF Steven Davis, 8 -- Set up Pelle's first goal with a pin-point corner kick and relished his role as the engine room in Southampton's midfield. Just the type of player every club needs for a windy Saturday afternoon in Stoke.
FW Shane Long 7 -- Has been the standout performer in Southampton's misfiring forward line in recent weeks but took a step back and let Pelle take the limelight for once. A useful foil for the two-goal hero with his tireless running.
FW Graziano Pelle, 9 -- The Italian has been scapegoated by Southampton supporters for some poor performances of late but bounced back to form in style. Stoke's usually water-tight defence could not handle his devastating mixture of raw power and clever movement. If he keeps playing like this he may win himself a new contract after all.
MF James Ward-Prowse, 6 -- Almost scored with a brilliant long-range free-kick which had goalkeeper Jack Butland beaten but was kept out by the crossbar.
MF Sadio Mane -- Sending off following a clash of heads with Pieters looked a little harsh. Southampton should win their appeal.
DF Maya Yoshida -- Did a steady enough job after replacing Targett for final ten minutes.
Alex Crook is a national newspaper journalist, commentator and author. Follow him on Twitter @alex_crook