Football: Festa trumps the card show

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Southampton 3

Monkou 61, Beattie 82, Ostenstad 85

Middlesbrough 3

Gascoigne 47, Lundekvam og 66, Festa 90

Attendance: 15,202

PAUL ALCOCK, the referee on the receiving end of the Paolo di Canio affair at Hillsborough last month, found himself again at the centre of unwanted attention yesterday. Southampton security guards had to protect him from incensed Middlesbrough players and officials after red cards for Robbie Mustoe and substitute Phil Stamp had reduced Bryan Robson's team to nine men by the end of a pulsating drama.

There were eight yellow cards in all, including two for Mustoe, in addition to Stamp's dismissal for dissent three minutes from time, but it was hardly the sort of bloodbath that might have justified name-taking of that magnitude.

Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, was reasonably controlled in his criticism afterwards. "There wasn't one bad tackle in the game," he said. "We have a policy of fining players who are booked or sent off for dissent. I look at a performance like that from the referee and I've got to fine my players."

Dave Jones, his opposite number, also felt Alcock was at fault. "I honestly thought Mustoe was harshly done by with the two yellow cards," he said.

As for the game itself, Matt Le Tissier, whose improved form had contributed greatly to Southampton's mini-revival of four unbeaten matches, was involved from the start yesterday. After 10 minutes his deep corner was headed back across goal by Ken Monkou and Egil Ostenstad seemed certain to score until Curtis Fleming blocked his point-blank effort on the line.

Middlesbrough were quick to retaliate. Andy Townsend, back on the ground where his League career began, latched on to Hamilton Ricard's pass and slid the ball past the advancing Southampton goalkeeper, Paul Jones, only to see it rebound off the inside of the post.

There were chances galore in the first half, with the two sets of forwards very much in the ascendancy, but the game needed a goal. Within two minutes of the restart Paul Gascoigne obliged. Ricard's thrusting run at the heart of the Southampton defence was halted by Monkou's crude challenge on the 18-yard line and up stepped Gascoigne to curl the free- kick around the wall and beyond the despairing dive of Jones.

Southampton refused to let their heads drop and Ostenstad brought the best out of Marlon Beresford with a rising shot on the turn that was tipped over before the Saints drew level on the hour. Another teasing Le Tissier corner was met with a thumping header from the unmarked Monkou and this time Beresford had no hope.

Southampton's prospects took another turn for the better just two minutes after that as Mustoe, tracking back with Mark Hughes, brought the former Chelsea man down. Having been booked in the first half, also for a foul on Hughes, another caution meant Mustoe had to go, but instead of Southampton making their numerical advantage count it was Middlesbrough who stole the next goal out of the blue.

Gascoigne's hopeful long ball put Claus Lundekvam under pressure from Ricard and Brian Deane and the defender headed the ball past the fast approaching Jones and into the empty net.

With eight minutes to go, and Middlesbrough trying to hang on, Carlton Palmer punted a high ball into the area that Beresford and his defenders failed to deal with and the substitute, James Beattie, poked the ball over the line.

Then, three minutes later, Le Tissier set Ostenstad free on the right and the Norwegian drilled an accurate right-footed shot across Beresford and into the far corner for what looked the winner.

When Stamp received his marching orders it seemed to confirm that impression but two minutes into injury time poor old Lundekvam completed an afternoon of personal misery when he let Middlesbrough's Italian defender Gianluca Festa steal in to give Middlesbrough an unlikely point.