Football / FA Premiership: Saints spark a revival

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The Independent Online
Southampton. . . . .1

Le Tissier pen 44

Coventry City. . . 0

Attendance: 12,397

THE DELL crowd played Spot The Ball yesterday, keenly surveying the directors' box for any sign of Alan, whose Exeter match had been postponed. But the real development came on the field, where Southampton, with only their second victory in 10 games, showed tentative signs of reproducing what Sir Alf Ramsey famously termed their 'spirit of adventure'.

Five days after the departure of Ian Branfoot, whose direct tactics were deplored so vehemently by so many, the Saints strove to revive memories of more positive times - the revered days of Channon and Ball, Keegan and Payne. A mediocre match they deserved to win was decided, fittingly, by Southampton's sole maverick talent, Matt Le Tissier, lifting his team one place to 20th with a first-half penalty.

The Saints' tradition of style and self-expression so embodied by Le Tissier was stymied during Branfoot's near three-year tenure. Two-thirds of the Saintly trinity, Tim Flowers and Alan Shearer, were sold and never properly replaced while the considerable gifts of the third, Le Tissier, were never properly harnessed by Branfoot.

'Crowds here will settle for entertainment and all-out effort,' Lawrie McMenemy, their newly appointed director, said, 'and we made a start today. It's been a traumatic week and it's now up to the board to settle the situation about a new manager quickly, and we hope to have one in place next week.

'Alan Ball is one of a number of people we are considering but other chairmen as well as his have been approached. Alan has not been here to talk.'

McMenemy, an unpaid director, would readily consider himself as the senior partner in a two-tier system with a 'younger fella' running the football side. 'I would do anything to help the club,' McMenemy added - though a manager of Ball's experience and character is unlikely to be wooed by the proposal of being McMenemy's 'junior'.

But Ball, followed by Plymouth's Peter Shilton, remains the favourite despite his past links with Portsmouth, who are reviled by Saints fans.

The crowd, so instrumental in Branfoot's resignation, were in a party mood, a feeling that quickly transferred to players normally used to a background of dissent. Purpose verging on self-belief suffused Southampton's efforts, although it still took the length of a largely forgettable first half for both sides to settle - surprising given the presence of Ian Andrews and David Rennie.

Southampton's new-found commitment led to the breakthrough seconds before half-time when Neil Maddison slipped the ball into the area towards Iain Dowie. Paul Williams, Coventry's left-back, rashly attempted to dispossess Dowie from an awkward angle, his challenge sending the Saints striker to the floor. Le Tissier's 10th goal of the season, a well-struck spot-kick to Steve Ogrizovic's right, was emphatic.

The excellent Jason Dodd and Tommy Widdrington nearly confirmed Southampton's supremacy, but Phil Neal, the manager of an unadventurous Coventry, was angered by two incidents. Dowie's aerial challenge floored Brian Borrows, leaving the City full-back with a 'massive indentation on the side of his face', according to Neal. Borrows played on but will be X-rayed today.

Neal was also upset when Williams appeared to be fouled in the box by Paul Allen - but nothing was going to ruin Southampton's day.

(Photograph omitted)

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