Southampton 1 Liverpool 3
It was pitiful to watch Southampton yesterday. As they tried unsuccessfully to prise the ball from Liverpool's tender care, they must have felt they were being subjected to some form of prolonged torture. Not the sort that kills, but the sort that irritates until you scream for release.
Liverpool passed beautifully. Sequences of 10, 12 or more passes, all with one touch, were regular. Southampton got the ball only when one of these went astray. In some ways Matthew Le Tissier must have been glad to be given premature release from this drip, drip method of being defeated. He was given no option. Twice within 10 minutes he made clumsy, although not malicious, challenges, in quite hapless attempts to gain possession and as if to prove his tackling is indeed suspect.
Both warranted bookings and after the second, for his challenge on Phil Babb in the 69th minute, Le Tissier was duly sent off. Not that the contest was about him or his right to an England place. Le Tissier was more anonymous than most of his colleagues.
It had not started that way. When his second-minute corner curved in to the near post for Gordon Watson to claim the slenderest of touches Liverpool looked a tad jittery. Their three-man central defence was unsettled and with Neil Ruddock on the substitutes' bench appeared to lack a natural commander. Five minutes later Le Tissier ran 40 yards with the ball, space opening up before him, and slipped a craftily weighted pass to David Hughes, whose snatched shot went wide.
Then Liverpool welcomed Southampton into their torture chamber. With Jamie Redknapp and John Barnes at the fulcrum of the matter for much of the time and Steve McManaman surging this way and that on left and right, it was suddenly a match of a quite different texture. If McManaman's passing was occasionally inaccurate, he had the most appropriate riposte. In the 22nd minute he levelled matters by bursting into the area and drilling his shot home, after Robbie Fowler pulled the ball back from the right. By half-time Liverpool had passed enough to create goals aplenty for a season. As it was, their goalkeeper David James had to be fully alert three minutes before the break, with Neil Shipperley through for them to stay level.
The second goal arrived 11 minutes into the second half. Jason McAteer, playing in the unfamiliar position of right-back in place of Rob Jones, was intermittently uncertain in defence, but his attacking surges were delightful. He began this one by managing to keep the ball in play and surged from the halfway line into the area. When his shot was parried, McManaman buried the rebound.
McAteer was instrumental in the third goal too when, for once, there was nothing at all wrong with his pass to Redknapp, who easily converted. Evans was only concerned that there should have been still more.
Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Dodd, Hall, Widderington (Heaney, 65), Benali; Tisdale, Hughes, Le Tissier, Charlton; Shipperley (Maskell, 65), Watson. Substitute not used: Grobbelaar.
Liverpool (5-3-2): James; McAteer Wright, Scales, Babb, Harkness; McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes; Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Collymore, Ruddock, Warner (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
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