Football: Newcastle cursed by Le Tissier

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The Independent Online
Matthew Le Tissier has been the scourge of Newcastle United in recent times, and yesterday he delivered yet another killer blow when his goal early in the second half produced only the third away win in the League at St James' Park this season.

The result was a severe setback for a Newcastle side who had appeared to be turning into a force again in the Premiership, but they paid the price for some frenetic football and their failure to recognise the danger posed by a determined and crafty Southampton.

Worse still for Newcastle's immediate prospects was the loss of Les Ferdinand at half-time with what the manager, Kenny Dalglish, described as a tweaked hamstring. With Alan Shearer definitely unfit and Faustino Asprilla suspended, they could go into Tuesday's Uefa Cup quarter final first leg against AS Monaco with only Peter Beardsley of their recognised forwards available. "It doesn't look promising," Dalglish said of Ferdinand's injury, and having sold two reserve strikers in Darren Huckerby and Paul Kitson, Newcastle might have to make a very quick purchase indeed.

It was the second time this season that Le Tissier had done for Newcastle following his dramatic last-minute equaliser at The Dell six weeks ago in what was Dalglish's first match in full charge. Newcastle put the experience behind them to record three successive League wins, but the commanding sweep which used to be their hallmark remains a distant memory. The ball could have run more kindly for them on this occasion, but as Dalglish said, they "huffed and puffed," and the resolve of their opponents was formidable.

Southampton's first win in seven matches owed much to their defensive organisation and bravery under pressure, never more so than when Alan Neilson seemed to risk his life by flinging himself in front of a Philippe Albert drive eight minutes from time. But it was by no means all backs- to-the-wall stuff. Egil Ostenstad, playing as a loan striker, was an unsettling presence throughout, while the Southampton midfield covered when they had to and probed when they could.

Le Tissier, who was having one of his quieter games until he struck, manages to reserve his best for Newcastle, and the fact that he was preferred to Ferdinand when England played Italy last month, was doubtless another factor in the boos he received from the home crowd whenever he touched the ball early on. But then that was simply asking for trouble.

In Shearer's absence, Asprilla was given only his second start of the Dalglish era, and his elasticity and dribbling skills frequently threatened to confound the Southampton defence. But he was also guilty of trying to do too much on his own. Newcastle's attack operated no more smoothly when David Ginola came on for Ferdinand in the second half.

Controlled football was difficult in the wind, and a certain amount of needle between the teams did little for the flow of the match. Newcastle twice came close in the first half when Asprilla headed against a post and Ferdinand had an angled drive well saved by Maik Taylor. But the more significant moments came at the other end - the penalty that Albert risked when he brought down Ostenstad, and Shaka Hislop's let-off when he went walkabout and saw Ostenstad's shot go wide.

But all the while Le Tissier was lurking. Ten minutes into the second half he collected a long ball, waited for the bounce, and volleyed a dipping left-foot shot into the bottom corner. Insult was nearly added two minutes later when an arrogant Le Tissier free-kick was only just tipped over the bar by Hislop.

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