Sam Cunningham for the Daily Mail

Jay Rodriguez scored his first goal in 17 months to help Southampton rescue a draw in a tricky Europa League play-off against Midtjylland.

Former Saint Tim Sparv, who spent three years at their academy but never kicked a ball for the first team, put the Danish side ahead, but Rodriguez calmly converted a second-half penalty to give them every chance of progressing in Denmark next week.

In a week when Manchester United are threatening to steal Sadio Mane, Rodriguez – who missed the entirety of last season with a knee injury – made a timely return to scoring. Yet it was far from an easy night for the home side. 

Tim Sparv's 20-yard strike gave Midtjylland a precious away goal and the advantage over Southampton in their Europa League tie

Tim Sparv’s 20-yard strike gave Midtjylland a precious away goal and the advantage over Southampton in their Europa League tie

Jay Rodriguez scored from the penalty spot in the second half to rescue a draw for Southampton at St Mary's Stadium

Jay Rodriguez scored from the penalty spot in the second half to rescue a draw for Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium

MATCH FACTS 

Southampton: Stekelenburg 6.5, Fonte 6, Caulker 6, Targett 6.5, Yoshida 6, Ward-Prowse 6.5 (Juanmi 83), Wanyama 6, Romeu 6, Pelle 7, Mane 6.5, Rodriguez 7.5 (Long 76). Subs Not Used: Kelvin Davis, Cedric Soares, Steven Davis, Tadic, Martina.

Booked: Romeu.

Goals: Rodriguez (pen) 56.

Midtjylland: Dahlin, Romer, Hansen, Sviatchenko, Lauridsen, Sparv, Sisto (Hassan 71), Poulsen, Royer, Andersson (Olsson 78), Rasmussen (Onuachu 89). Subs Not Used: Andersen, Pusic, Urena Porras, Banggaard.

Booked: Lauridsen, Sparv, Romer, Olsson.

Goals: Sparv 45.

Att: 28,890

Ref: Clement Turpin (France).

The long throws from centre-half Kian Hansen that Ronald Koeman highlighted before the match and that he had specifically worked on defending in training were proving difficult to deal with. The first from the right after three minutes was left by defender Erik Sviatchenko and bounced awkwardly in front of Southampton goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but he held it. 

After 25 minutes, another from the opposite flank was flicked on, Steven Caulker could only weakly head away and Sviatchenko nodded the ball towards the right of goal. Stekelenburg had to claw it away at full stretch. 

In what was proving a difficult match against the Danish champions, shortly afterwards Pione Sisto hit an effort into the side netting from a tight angle on the left.

Southampton had their chances. On seven minutes, Rodriguez really stretched his legs for the the first time since coming back from 16 months out injured to sprint in behind full-back Jesper Lauridsen on to Victor Wanyama’s ball over, but with just the goalkeeper to beat he prodded wide. 

Not a minute had passed when Rodriguez played in Manchester United target Mane whose first-time left-foot strike was travelling across goal towards the bottom right corner but was held by Johan Dahlin.

Yet seconds before the break, Sparv was afforded far too much space outside Southampton’s box and he hit a shot with the outside of his left boot into the bottom left corner.

Koeman would have been furious at half-time with that defending. He is trying to patch up his back line after losing five of what he considers the seven key players — goalkeeper, four defenders and two holding midfielders — through transfers or injury.

Sadio Mane (left) started for Southampton despite suggestions that Manchester United are poised to make a transfer bid

Sadio Mane (left) started for Southampton despite suggestions that Manchester United are poised to make a transfer bid

Sparv scored from long range in the first half to silence St Mary's and give the Danish side the lead in the Europa League tie

Sparv scored from long range in the first half to silence St Mary’s and give the Danish side the lead in the Europa League tie

Sparv didn't celebrate his goal against his former club despite giving Midtjylland the lead in the first leg at St Mary's

Sparv didn’t celebrate his goal against his former club despite giving Midtjylland the lead in the first leg at St Mary’s

Lauridsen was unchallenged as he sent in a cross from the left, Jose Fonte’s clearing header had distance but no-one was anywhere near Sparv while he steadied himself to score.

Southampton increased their urgency after the break. Graziano Pelle had a shot deflected inches wide on 51 minutes and from the resulting corner Steven Caulker headed the ball in but it was ruled out for a foul. 

The home side were furious. A minute later, Rodriguez crossed and Pelle met it with a diving header which was well saved.

The visitors finally buckled when long-throw specialist Hansen tripped James Ward-Prowse inside the box and Rodriguez slotted in the penalty.

Midtjylland goalkeeper Johan Dahlin makes a save to deny Southampton's Steven Caulker during the first half

Midtjylland goalkeeper Johan Dahlin makes a save to deny Southampton’s Steven Caulker during the first half

Southampton defender Caulker had a goal disallowed for a foul early in the second half

Southampton defender Caulker had a goal disallowed for a foul early in the second half

Rodriguez tucked home a penalty just before the hour mark to drag Southampton level in the first leg on Thursday

Rodriguez tucked home a penalty just before the hour mark to drag Southampton level in the first leg on Thursday

Rodriguez celebrates scoring his first goal in 17 months after missing the entire of the 2014-15 campaign through injury

Rodriguez celebrates scoring his first goal in 17 months after missing the entire of the 2014-15 campaign through injury

The 190 travelling supporters from the Danish side showed their support for their team throughout the night

The 190 travelling supporters from the Danish side showed their support for their team throughout the night

Southampton's Matthew Targett rues a missed opportunity during their draw with Midtjylland in the Europa League on Thursday

Southampton’s Matthew Targett rues a missed opportunity during their draw with Midtjylland in the Europa League on Thursday

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