Football: Hirst about-turn

Southampton 2 Ostendstad 28, Le Tissier pen 33 Sheffield Wednesday 3 Hirst 49, 55, Booth 78 Attendance: 15,062
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The Independent Online
A season would hardly be complete without a David Hirst comeback. He embarked on the 1997 version a week ago and yesterday confirmed its overwhelming success by scoring clinically precise goals which were instrumental in giving Sheffield Wednesday a remarkable victory at The Dell.

The Yorkshire side were trailing 2-0 at half-time and could easily have conceded three or four more goals, so great was their defensive discomfort. Without their authoritative centre-back Des Walker for the first time this season they were in disarray.

It took Hirst five minutes into the second half to alter the complexion of the match. Using his fleetness of foot, he was put in the clear and his drive past Maik Taylor was as powerful as it was accurate. Six minutes later he timed another burst through impeccably and the outcome was similar.

These were both pertinent reminders of what an influential striker Hirst might have been in the English game. He was capped three times five years ago but since then his career has been frequently interrupted by injuries, the latest of which, to a knee, has kept him out since the autumn.

Wednesday scored the winner nine minutes from time when a fluent move initiated by one substitute, Regi Blinker, was completed from close range by another, Andy Booth.

Both replacement forwards were brought on at half-time after Southampton had seemed in astute control of the match's destiny. Only the intervention of post and bar and two splendid saves by Kevin Pressman prevented a greater deficit. Prompted by the delightfully gifted Eyal Berkovitch and Matthew Le Tissier, they were full both of confidence and conviction.

Le Tissier and the diminutive Israeli repeatedly threaded telling balls through a disconcerted defence. Egil Ostenstad put Southampton in front from close range after being unmarked and five minutes later Berkovitch's tantalising lob persuaded Jon Newsome to handle. Le Tissier scored the penalty.

However, Wednesday's reorganisation out-smarted Southampton and the Saints remain in deep trouble. Still waiting to launch their annual campaign to preserve their Premiership status, there may be no need for breath- holding.