Football: Beardsley to shoulder the burden

Newcastle United 0 Southampton 1
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The Independent Online
Newcastle United would not be the first team who have come to rely on Alan Shearer, and for all Kenny Dalglish's protestations that he is just another player, there was no escaping his absence as a key factor in this unexpected outcome on Saturday.

Losing Shearer is bad enough. But the prospect of also being without Les Ferdinand and Faustino Asprilla for tomorrow's visit of Monaco in the first leg of the Uefa Cup quarter-final puts a severe dampener on a Newcastle season that suddenly seems to have reached a crunch. Their next Premiership match, a week today, is at Liverpool, scene of the 4- 3 epic that was so significant in shaping the destiny of last year's championship.

With Asprilla suspended from the Monaco game and Ferdinand, who tweaked a hamstring against Southampton, "not looking promising", according to Dalglish, Peter Beardsley may be the only recognised forward in the team. If Newcastle were away in the first leg it would not be quite so serious. As it is, the recent sale of Darren Huckerby and Paul Kitson begins to look like a mistake or, if we are being kind, a misfortune.

Dalglish bridled when it was put to him that Newcastle had missed Shearer, his suggestion that "you could say we missed Malcolm Macdonald if you want to go back that far" being an example of him at his facetious worst. Not that it would have mattered if Asprilla, brought in as Shearer's replacement, had produced shooting worthy of his dribbling skills, but for all the consternation he caused the Southampton defence, his runs rarely amounted to anything, and often they were an indulgence.

True, there was the move he orchestrated in the first half when he spread the ball wide to Keith Gillespie and just failed to get on to the cross; then Ferdinand had a chance from the edge of the area but found the promising Maik Taylor equal to a fine shot. But ideas from outside the area were in short supply until David Ginola came on for Ferdinand at the start of the second half. Not long after that, though, Newcastle were having to chase the game, and unlike against Leicester a month earlier there was no Shearer to tackle the problem single-handedly.

Southampton won because their concentration and resolve never wavered during long periods of pressure, and because in Matthew Le Tissier they had a player who seems to have made it his mission in life to thwart Newcastle at every turn. Six weeks ago, in Dalglish's first match fully in charge of his new club, Le Tissier capped Southampton's recovery from 2-0 down at The Dell with a spectacular injury-time equaliser. This followed similarly inspired moments in previous meetings, not to mention the goal of the season he inflicted on Dalglish when he was manager of Blackburn two years ago.

For 56 minutes it was Egil Ostenstad, a real handful in his role as a lone striker, who had looked much more dangerous than Le Tissier. But then Ulrich van Gobbel, Southampton's giant defender, knocked a ball forward from deep inside his own half and, not for the first time, the Newcastle centre backs were caught out. Le Tissier waited for the bounce before scoring from 18 yards with a superb left-footed volley.

Graeme Souness, the Southampton manager, had no difficulty with the reality of the situation. "It was a good time to be playing them - without Shearer and with Ferdinand going off," he said. "We should believe in ourselves after that." The effect on Newcastle may be the reverse.

Goal: Le Tissier (56) 0-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Gillespie, Lee, Barton, Clark (Beardsley, 71); Asprilla, Ferdinand (Ginola, h-t). Substitutes not used: Crawford, Hughes, Srnicek (gk).

Southampton (5-4-1): Taylor; Van Gobbel, Lundekvam, Dryden, Benali, Charlton (Slater, 61); Magilton, Neilson, Le Tissier (Warren, 77), Berkovitch (Maddison, 67); Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Basham, Beasant (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Looe).

Bookings: Newcastle: Asprilla. Southampton: Magilton, Neilson. Man of the match: Neilson.

Attendance: 36,446.