Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
A WHOLE new Ball game indeed for Southampton who sprinkled stardust on manager Alan's homecoming to rip apart Liverpool's own vision of a bright new beginning under Roy Evans. Matthew Le Tissier helped himself to a hat- trick in a magnificent personal contribution, a feat that gives Terry Venables food for thought as he pieces together his first England squad.
Le Tissier deserves to be among that select group of men. Correction: on this form he deserves to be in the team for few are capable of achieving so much with a football.
It was when Ian Branfoot decided his side, struggling against relegation almost from day one, could afford to dispense with one so talented that he finally lost all respect and support from Southampton's long-suffering fans. In has bounced Ball with a freshness and a positive belief that he has a player and 10 others capable of so much more.
On a bitterly cold night and with television in attendance that belief was shared as 18,000 turned out, making it easily the biggest gathering of the season at The Dell. They sang 'When the Saints go marching in' again and again as they took a leap of four places to 17th, their highest position of the season, and it did not seem out of place.
Incredibly, the Guernsey- born magician scored after only 28 seconds. Steve Nicol's headed clearance easily cleared the penalty area and where mere mortals would have played safe, Le Tissier's brain saw the possibility and sent the ball first-time inside Bruce Grobbelaar's near post.
Ball described it as 'one of the best strikes I have seen for an awful long time,' and once dispatched, the party was in full swing.
Le Tissier's seventh-minute corner saw Iain Dowie jumping above two Liverpool defenders to send the ball back across the area where Craig Maskell claimed a scoring header to mark his own return to the club where he began his career. It was a sensational start. Ball said later he had always been 'a lucky lad' but this was something else, a dream lift-off for the dream ticket which is how his partnership with Lawrie McMenemy is regarded in these parts.
It got better as skill and confidence flowed freely though the side enabling Jim Magilton, last week's other new recruit from Oxford, to settle in immediately. Le Tissier's clever pass exposed Liverpool's failings at the back once more, but, after drawing Grobbelaar, Maskell sent his shot wide of the target.
Three minutes before half- time, Julian Dicks laid hands on Maskell and the striker pulled out of Swindon's reserves took the opportunity to exaggerate the offence with a dramatic fall to earn his side a penalty. Le Tissier sent this one high to Grobbelaar's left. His second, soon after half- time, when Mark Wright had handled to prevent Le Tissier getting away again, was just as unerring, drilled low to the keeper's left.
'I told Matt when I arrived that the talk was that he didn't work hard enough and that he became distracted in games,' Ball said. 'I said that if he stepped that up he could go all the way and there is no higher place in the game than to represent your country.'
At 4-0 down and heading nowhere fast except to their first defeat in 11 League games, Evans said he feared a St Valentine's Day massacre for his team. Up to then they had enjoyed more possession, but with Southampton deploying five defenders in front of Dave Beasant they were incapable of achieving any penetration.
That changed when Jamie Redknapp came on and, coincidentally, when the white ball was changed for an orange alternative as the falling snow made life difficult for the referee.
In the 69th minute, after Ian Rush had been brought down by Ken Monkou, Dicks blasted home the spot-kick. Three minutes from time, when Beasant failed to deal cleanly with a shooter from Dicks, Rush was there to tap the ball in and achieve a measure of respectability for the Merseysiders.
Southampton (5-3-2): Beasant; Kenna, Wood, Benali, Monkou, Charlton; Le Tissier, Magilton, Maddison; Maskell, Dowie. Substitutes not used: Andrews (gk), Allen, Banger.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; Jones, Nicol, Wright, Dicks; McManaman, Clough (Redknapp, 58), Whelan, Walters; Rush, Barnes. Substitutes not used: James (gk), Matteo.
Referee: P Foakes (Clacton).Reuse content