Football: Le Tissier saviour for Saints

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 3

Williamson 11, Allen 62, Chapman 89

Southampton 3

Le Tissier 45, pen 65, Maddison 52

Attendance: 26,952

SOUTHAMPTON are safe - there will be Premiership football at The Dell again next season. And no one can be under any illusions to the fact that this privilege would not be possible without the craft and genius of Matthew Le Tissier.

And, indeed, it is a privilege, because to watch him on song is a thrilling experience; yesterday was his show, as have been so many others recently, and he capped it with two goals: an unstoppable penalty and the sort of classic free-kick that we have now come to expect from him.

West Ham dovetailed with Le Tissier to provide a marvellous see-saw sign-off to the season. The denizens of the North Bank did their best to wreck it, though, marking their last stand by hurling abuse at Le Tissier and then piling on to the pitch five minutes before the game was over and holding up play for a further 10. The average age of the pitch invaders cannot have been much above 13.

At this stage, Southampton were 3-2 up and when the players came back, results elsewhere had made their survival a certainty, so Lee Chapman's last-second goal did nothing to ruin the celebrations. At the start, though, Southampton had needed a win to be safe, and a draw to be sentenced to a precarious date with the football results. So things were not looking up after eight minutes when West Ham's young guns, Matthew Rush and Danny Williamson, cut open the Saints' defence, Williamson connecting viciously with a volley that required a brave block from Monkou to keep out. Two minutes later, Southampton really were in trouble when Williamson fulfilled the promise of moments before, converting a through pass from Martin Allen that caught the defence square.

The response was muted, indeed the first half was so much West Ham's that the Saints' travelling cohorts had nothing to cheer for but the Wimbledon goals at Goodison Park. Until Le Tissier moved in on the game, that is, just before half-time, curling a 22-yard free kick inside the right post - almost a regulation shot for the Southampton genius now, but a joy nevertheless.

Le Tissier was by no means finished. Seven minutes after the restart he tormented Tim Breacker, teasing and caressing the ball in front of his marker, before stepping wide to place a chip smack on to the head of Neil Maddison to score.

Hardly had Martin Allen levelled the scores - thumping home a ball that Dave Beasant hadn't managed to hold - than Le Tissier was smashing in his second from the penalty spot. The decision was dubious - Tony Gale was penalised for holding back Iain Dowie - yet Dowie would not have been in the penalty area but for a delicate chip from You Know Who.

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