Football: Karl's late show calms City nerves

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Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Manchester City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

IT HAS been a long time coming, and no one in their right mind, partisans apart, would say Manchester City's first away win in the league since 25 September was worth waiting for. But Steffen Karl's first goal for the club in the 88th minute at The Dell yesterday could not have come at a better time for all concerned at Maine Road.

The substitute's sure-footed low, angled drive, after Steve McMahon had rolled back the years with a spirited run across the face of the Southampton defence, not only hoisted City three places clear of the relegation mire, but continued their encouraging run of late. Fourteen points from a possible 27 sounds like survival form for Brian Horton's hitherto under-achievers.

As for Southampton, seven games without a win, four of the last five lost, it is all doom and gloom. Alan Ball, their manager, said as much after the defeat at Chelsea on Saturday: 'If we don't beat City, we're buried.' Not surprisingly, he chose to temper his pessimism yesterday but conceded: 'We're in a perilous position. You need that little bit of luck and we seem to have run out of it at the wrong time. I think we got beat because I tried to win it. By removing our sweeper, I loosened it up at the back.'

The game needed some loosening up - both teams were desperately uptight. Scoring opportunities were at a premium, as was invention and skill. Ball was to be applauded, by neutrals at least, for taking off one of his three centre-backs, Steve Wood, in favour of Nicky Banger, a striker, in the 62nd minute.

After a bright start for Ball down on the South coast - 12 points from 24 - it is all beginning to go distinctly awry for the little man who knows the sinking feeling of relegation only too well.

The goals have dried up - two in seven games - and are unlikely to start flowing again while their leading scorer, Matt Le Tissier, chooses to deploy his talents in the left-back position, as he was wont to do here. A booking for foolishly tweaking McMahon's ear also took him dangerously close to a suspension.

Fine smothering saves by Andy Dibble from Jim Magilton and by Dave Beasant to deny a dithering David Rocastle helped maintain the tedious status quo, until the departure of Wood and the arrival of Karl eight minutes later.

Le Tissier and the German, who is on loan from Borussia Dortmund, both then went close from free-kicks. Sights readjusted, Karl then found the target, whereas the Southampton man struck a post with the last kick of the match. By such slender margins is fate often decided.

Southampton (3-5-2): Beasant; Wood (Banger, 61), Monkou, Benali; Kenna, Allen, Magilton, Maddison, Charlton; Dowie, Le Tissier. Substitutes not used: Dodd, Andrews (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-2): Dibble; Hill, Curle, Vonk, D Brightwell; Rocastle (Karl, 69), I Brightwell, McMahon, Beagrie; Rosler, Walsh (Sheron, 77). Substitutes not used: Margetson (gk).

Referee: B Hill (Kettering).