Football: Home improvements but no rest for Jones

Southampton 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0
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The Independent Online
HOME COMFORTS are all very well but Southampton's fifth consecutive victory at The Dell was not about to lull Dave Jones into a false sense of security. It was the five consecutive away defeats that most concerned the Saints manager on Saturday, and with good reason.

A week on and in his hour of victory Jones was still struggling to get his team's defeat at Middlesbrough out of his head. During his after-match press conference he kept returning to what he saw as a missed opportunity at the Riverside Stadium, which tells you what he thinks of Bryan Robson's under-achievers.

Southampton's urgent need for a bright, new, shiny, money-making stadium of their own has been staring successive boards at The Dell in the face for years and, now that they appear to have finally got one, at St Mary's, the danger is it will come too late to preserve their Premiership status after 21 years in the top flight.

As Jones says: "The thing we've got in common with Manchester United is that we both sell out our grounds from day one each season." With a capacity of 15,000, what they have not got in common with United is the size of those sell-outs. Such is the demand for season tickets that many Saints fans resigned themselves long ago to watching reserve-team football.

If those same supporters are to watch Premiership football in the new stadium in three years' time, Southampton need to start picking up points away from home. Even if they were to win all four of their remaining home games it would still give them only 41 points and their next game at The Dell in a fortnight's time is against Arsenal, when they will be without the suspended Matt Le Tissier, Hassan Kachloul and Chris Marsden.

Wednesday's problem is exactly the opposite: they have the stadium but lack the support. They also seem to lack the ambition. As Howard Wilkinson once famously said of them: "They are a big city team with a small-town mentality."

Even with Benito Carbone back after suspension, their attack looked pitifully weak. With Michael Mols, the Utrecht striker they have been courting, set to join Rangers, Danny Wilson must find an alternative before Thursday's transfer deadline or he may find himself returning to Oakwell next season.

This was their fourth consecutive defeat and if relegation is to creep up on any one this season it might just be Wednesday. They even forfeited their record of not having lost at The Dell in 29 years, although when Marsden tried to pass the ball into his own net after 22 minutes it looked as if they might come away with something.

The task was complicated by the loss of Andy Hinchcliffe with a back injury which could keep him out of England's European Championship qualifier against Poland on Saturday. And then Le Tissier - as ever - came to Southampton's aid with a header to Matthew Oakley's cross for what you might call a Matt finish. In fact, had a couple of audacious 30-yard strikes from the Channel Islander also gone in, the win might even have had a gloss finish.

Goal: Le Tissier (41) 1-0.

Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Lundekvam, Colleter (Benali, 83); Oakley (Beattie, 66), Le Tissier, Marsden, Kachloul; Ostenstad, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Ripley, Bridge, Moss (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Atherton, Emerson Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe (Stefanovic, 21); Alexandersson, Sonner, Jonk (Humphreys, 85), Rudi; Booth, Carbone. Substitutes not used: Newsome, Briscoe, Pressman (gk).

Referee: R Harris (Banbury). Bookings: Southampton: Le Tissier, Kachloul, Marsden. Wednesday: Booth.

Man of the match: Le Tissier.

Attendance: 15,201.