Football: Day for Saints and Le Tissier

Southampton 3 Ostenstad 19, 88, Hirst 78 Blackburn Rovers 0 Attenda nce: 15,162
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT IS customary to tell that spring is about to arrive when cuckoos start singing and Southampton are fighting for their Premiership lives. This year it may be necessary to depend solely on the birds. Southampton, well-drilled and increasingly assured, are edging their way towards that unfamiliar territory which will guarantee safety. It is a measure of their confident progress under their manager Dave Jones - after a dreadful start to the season in which they lost five of their opening six matches - that they have now beaten the League's top four teams.

Blackburn Rovers were the latest casualties at The Dell yesterday and if the margin was slightly flattering, the victory was thoroughly merited. They harried, they jostled, they were always willing to attack and, perhaps, surprised Rovers by the sustained nature of their performance. The Lancashire club are in the middle of a run which is bordering on a mild slump and while their contribution was always involving, their defence was not at its most solid and they failed to convert any of their chances.

The presence of the England manager, Glenn Hoddle, led to the inevitable speculation of whether Matthew Le Tissier was back in the reckoning for the World Cup. As it happened, Le Tissier had a lively day. He teased. He ran occasionally. He unfolded the odd shot, he set up the first goal but the answer to the speculation is still probably that he needs a miracle to make England's squad.

This was also precisely the term Blackburn's manager, Roy Hodgson, used in assessing his team's chances of catching Manchester United who they now trail by 11 points. In reflecting on the performance, he cast doubt on the legitimacy of the first two goals but he also conceded that their defeat was justified.

There was an electrifying start to the match in which openings were freely exchanged by both sides. Martin Dahlin's wonderfully instinctive shot from the edge of the area had been saved by Paul Jones when David Hirst, at the other end, played the ball to the byline for Le Tissier. He bided his time and then slipped the ball across the goal for Egil Ostenstad who was adjudged on-side and took full advantage.

When Blackburn were in possession they looked the more comfortable, but with Kevin Richardson and Carlton Palmer both in vibrant mood it was always difficult keeping the ball meaningfully for long. Dahlin, when allowed, showed some neat touches but his performance was rather epitomised by his wasted shot after Billy McKinlay's surging run early in the second half. Southampton's defence was resolute and, in Jones, they had a keeper doing the simple things well and the difficult ones better. In the 78th minute, Hirst seized on the ball when Jeff Kenna failed to control Le Tissier's corner. A suspicion of a push drew no response and Hirst, who had already shot over four times, hit the target clinically. With a minute left, Ostenstad was left lurking alone up front when he latched on to a long ball and rounded Tim Flowers, the more probable objective of Hoddle's visit. Afterwards, Jones said he would start blooding youngsters when his team achieved safety, as well as playing more attractively. Spring, for once, cannot come soon enough at Southampton.