Football: Ball's progress slows to crawl

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The Independent Online
Chelsea. . . . .2

Spencer 44, Johnsen 80

Southampton. . .0

Attendance: 19,801

IT'S grim down south; at least the way Southampton are playing it is. Yesterday at Stamford Bridge they gave a performance synonymous with the word relegation, deteriorating as the match wore on and allowing Chelsea a comfortable fillip before Saturday's FA Cup semi- final against Luton.

For Southampton the impetus provided by the change of management that saw Alan Ball installed has slowed to the point of six games without a win, three of the last four lost. Tomorrow, against Manchester City at The Dell, will show if it has ground to a halt.

They fully deserved their reward yesterday. At the outset they strung out six men across the back, as if quantity rather than quality would help. It is a tempting policy given that there is always Matthew Le Tissier to win a game with a touch of class should a defence hold out. It has, of course, led to them being called a one-man team - and you suspect he was the one man Terry Venables came to watch - though this is unfair. With the introduction of Jim Magilton in midfield, they are almost up to two.

The Southampton feeling is doubtless that righting the season's earlier wrongs and gaining survival is paramount before matters can be improved. The short-term problem was that the siege mentality produced a siege.

The saddest aspect was that on the occasions they did dredge up some attacking ambition, they looked capable of disturbing the electronic scoreboard operator. After 24 minutes, for example, Iain Dowie hit Dimitri Kharin's left post with a drive from 20 yards then forced the Russian goalkeeper into a good save with a header from Paul Allen's cross.

Otherwise, it was a question of Dave Beasant keeping out Chelsea before he regressed to the gaffe-infested form that saw him leave the London club. Early on he turned aside a neat curling volley from the energetic Craig Burley but was beaten a minute before half-time. Dennis Wise's corner from the right was flicked on by Erland Johnsen and only half cleared to John Spencer who pushed home a low shot from the edge of the area. Spencer might have had a hat-trick but failed to profit in the second half from Beasant's weak kick-out to him and a missed punch from a corner.

Ultimately it mattered little. Chelsea, though still in need of Glenn Hoddle, whose Achilles injury is likely to have healed for the semi-final, confirmed their victory 10 minutes from time when Neil Maddison could only flick another corner by Wise across his own goal and Johnsen headed home his first goal in four seasons.

That it was not Southampton's day was amply illustrated when the isolated Le Tissier was booked for an uncharacteristic foul on Wise and Maddison's last-minute shot was cleared from the line. 'The players have to be brutally honest about the situation they have got the club in,' Ball said afterwards. For his part, he might consider a less grim approach tomorrow.

(Photograph omitted)

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