Austin brace powers Southampton past Sparta Prague

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Charlie Austin scored a first-half brace as Southampton made a winning start to their UEFA Europa League campaign with a 3-0 win over Sparta Prague.

It was the first time Saints were playing in the competition proper for 13 years having lost in the play-off round last term.

Saints boss Claude Puel made seven changes to his starting line-up and was rewarded with a committed performance and his first competitive victory since taking the reins at the St Mary's Stadium.

Austin could hardly have made a stronger case for a regular place in Puel's XI, winning and scoring a penalty after five minutes and doubling Southampton's lead with a headed goal just before the half-hour mark.

Jay Rodriguez, who had been linked a loan move away from Southampton in the transfer window, then finished a brilliant team move in second-half injury-time to complete a comfortable evening for the hosts.

Austin has now scored on his Premier League and European debuts for Saints and his performance, along with those of James Ward-Prowse and Maya Yoshida, will give supporters hope that their side has the strength in depth to make their eighth European campaign a successful one.

Sparta were Europa League quarter-finalists last season and Southampton's dominance over them will send out a strong message to fellow Group K opponents Inter Milan and Hapoel Be'er Sheva.

In Group D, AZ were held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man semi-professional Irish side Dundalk.

In Group F Sassuolo marked their Europa League debut with a 3-0 win over seasoned campaigners Athletic Bilbao thanks to goals from Pol Lirola, Gregoire Defrel and Matteo Politano in the final half-hour.

Rapid Vienna also secured maximum points in that group with a 3-2 win over Racing Genk.

In Group A, which also contains Manchester United and Feyenoord, Ukrainian debutants Zorya were only denied a landmark first win by Fenerbahce defender Simon Kjaer's goal in the fifth minute of added time.

Group B's early pace-setters are APOEL and Olympiacos after wins over Astana (2-1) and Young Boys (1-0) respectively.

Anderlecht gained an early advantage in Group C as they beat FK Qabala 3-1 while rivals Mainz and St Etienne could only draw 1-1 with Robert Beric snatching an 88th-minute equaliser for the French club.

Diego Perotti scored an early penalty for Roma but they were pegged back by Marek Bakos's goal for Viktoria Pilzen in Group E, which is topped by Austria Vienna, who held on for 3-2 win over Astra Girgiu after Lukas Rotpuller's red card with 11 minutes to go.

Ajax came from behind to beat Panathiniakos 2-1 in Group G in a match which finished nine men playing 10.

Marcus Berg gave the hosts a fifth-minute lead but on-loan Chelsea forward Betrand Traore equalised before half-time and after Jairo Riedeweld scored the winner in the 67th minute things went downhill for the Greek side.

Ivan Ivanov was sent off for a second bookable offence - a fate which later befell Ajax's Hakim Ziyech - before Mubarak Wakaso was shown a red card for violent conduct in added time.

Goals from Alexandre Pato and Jonathan dos Santos saw Villarreal come from behind to beat FC Zurich 2-1 in Group L, while in Group J Fiorentina were held to a goalless draw by PAOK Salonika.

Source Omnisport, PA Sport