Football: Le Tissier makes Ball bounce

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . .1

Cole 38

Southampton . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Maddison 5, Le Tissier 83

Attendance: 32,129

WHEN Southampton's supporters were doing all they could to get rid of Ian Branfoot, their recently departed manger, much of their wrath was focused on his attitude towards Matthew Le Tissier - an outstanding talent but one that Branfoot often distrusted.

Branfoot has gone now, but Le Tissier lives on - and how. He produced a brilliant winning goal yesterday to cap a typically audacious performance and help give Alan Ball, the new man in charge, the sort of start he can only have dreamed of. But Le Tissier lovers, be warned. Even after this, Ball was talking about having 'an awful lot to do on other parts of his game'. Oh dear.

Newcastle, for one, won't think there's much wrong with Le Tissier, who has now done for them twice this season. In October at the Dell he scored two of the season's best goals to give his side a 2-1 win.

Quite a lot has gone wrong at Southampton since then, and having slipped to third from bottom and with a new management team of Ball and Lawrie McMenemy, the chances of the same result looked remote.

As it was, Southampton needed plenty of luck. Newcastle, while under-performing at times, had a scintillating spell during the middle third of the match, equalising after Southampton had taken an early lead and threatening to overrun their opponents. But, as Ball said, Southampton showed the sort of resilience which suggested their cause is far from lost.

Le Tissier was a threat from almost the first kick, and it was his well-flighted corner in the sixth minute that led to the opening goal. A cluster of players went up for the ball, with Neil Maddison timing his jump the best to head firmly past Mike Hooper. St James' Park went virtually silent. Because of rebuilding work at the Gallowgate End, no room was made for Southampton's supporters - a measure Branfoot must wish he could have taken.

Pretty soon, though, the crowd got their voices back as Newcastle began to get into their stride. And after 39 minutes came a sight as familiar as the Tyne Bridge - a goal from Andy Cole, his 23rd in the Premiership this season and 30th in all competitions, a mark reached quicker than any player in the club's history. Not one of his best, a slightly scuffed shot in off the post from Mark Robinson's cross, but bringing Newcastle much relief.

Newcastle were motoring by now. Their running off the ball helped to create spaces that had not been there before, and twice in a minute straight after half-time Robert Lee came close to increasing their lead. First Dave Beasant foiled him with a superb stop low down, and then Lee aimed fractionally too high with a rasping shot.

A relentlessness entered Newcastle's play, as much in evidence when they were chasing the ball as when they had it. Not that there was too much of the former as Southampton switched their priorities from winning to drawing. They got a bit edgy. Nicky Banger had a kick at Barry Venison and was booked. Le Tissier got into an argument with the referee. Newcastle's sheer pace had even their five-man defence stretched to the limit.

Southampton, however, were still producing sporadic attacks, a feature of which was a variety of attempts by Le Tissier to lob Hooper from distance. And when, in the 73rd minute, he chipped a lovely ball over the heads of the Newcastle defence for Ian Dowie to hit the top of the bar with a header, the warning signs were there.

The decisive goal came six minutes from the end when Le Tissier, brought down some 20 yards from goal after a jinking crossfield run, made light of bending the ball over the defensive wall and into Hooper's top right-hand corner.