FOOTBALL: Dowie crowds out Le Tissier

West Ham United 2 Southampton 1
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Dave Merrington was as close to anger as he gets over reports before this match that he had taken a sabre to Matthew Le Tissier's captaincy epaulettes.

It was, he was anxious to assure us all, an idea that emanated from the man himself. For all that, it was one of the intriguing questions - how would the ex-captain react to his demotion?

Would he go into his shell or play out of his skin? As a virtuoso of mood music, it was perhaps to be expected that he did a little of each.

"Matty is getting better every week," Merrington said. "But he has been feeling under pressure this season. He came to see me about it and we've taken one source of pressure off him."

Floating between the front line and midfield, Le Tissier showed enough of his inimitable skill to raise hopes that allowing Barry Venison to lead the side out as well as doing most of the shouting will work out well for all concerned.

He also had the satisfaction of flighting in the corner that produced a goal, comically against the run of play, that put the Saints ahead midway through the first half. Ian Bishop got the crucial touch, however, steering his header into his own net.

After that, it was a matter of whether the Hammers could redress that wrong. Bishop, to his credit, was as calm and constructive as anyone, but it was a former Southampton player - albeit of a subtly different style from Le Tissier - who emerged with much of the credit for their late but successful recovery.

Even the compliments paid to a player like Iain Dowie tend to be of the back-handed variety. "He will make mistake after mistake and keep giving everything he's got," Merrington said.

"A bit harsh," Harry Redknapp observed wryly. "But he does make the odd mistake without letting it worry him. He has been a tremendous signing for us for pounds 150,000. You only have to look at our record before he arrived and our record since."

After Tony Cottee had brought them level in the 80th minute, Dowie made no mistake two minutes later, sweeping in Tim Breacker's cross to send his old club home empty-handed.

Game, set and match to the journeyman, but, for the record, he is one who believes that Le Tissier will bounce back better than ever. Southampton, now uncomfortably close to the relegation zone, will hope he is not mistaken about that.

Goals: Bishop og (22) 0-1; Cottee (80) 1-1; Dowie (83) 2-1.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Potts, Martin (Breacker, 50), Rieper, Dicks; Williamson, Bishop, Moncur (Slater, 63), M Hughes; Dowie, Cottee. Substitute not used: Sealey (gk).

Southampton (4-4-1-1): Beasant; Dodd, Hall, Monkou, Benali; Oakley (D Hughes, 70), Magilton (Maddison, 70), Venison, Charlton; Le Tissier; Shipperley. Substitute not used: Robinson.

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Bookings: West Ham: Moncur, Dowie, Breacker. Southampton: Venison, Hall.

Man of the match: Bishop.

Attendance: 18,501.