Football: Not at the races? A stewards' inquiry would have been a more appropriate analogy at The Dell

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The Independent Online
It seldom occurs to football supporters that managers cannot be held entirely responsible for the team's performance. "We weren't at the races today," Harry Redknapp said, unable to explain West Ham's serious loss of momentum.

Important victories to encourage the prospect of survival, then this. Not just a 2-0 defeat at The Dell that saw Southampton climb a place above, but so little resolve that Redknapp's mournful expression was understandable. Not at the races? Coming from that direction, a stewards' inquiry would have been a more appropriate analogy.

Of course, the inspirational Julian Dicks is a big loss but it was West Ham's general lethargy that led to the blistering of ears in their dressing- room. Reminders about individual responsibility were high on Redknapp's agenda.

The introduction of Iain Dowie and Hugo Porfirio at half-time helped to bring about an improvement but until then West Ham were awful. Outplayed in midfield, where Eyal Berkovitch and Jim Magilton made light of being outnumbered, their defenders looked in need of an introduction. On top of everything else, Ludek Miklosko began as though he had Dracula's aversion to crosses.

The men on Southampton's bench looked on this with pleasure and astonishment. As one of Graeme Souness's assistants said afterwards, they could not believe what they were seeing.

Nobody took better advantage of the situation than Berkovitch, who saw a great deal more of the ball than he gets when Matthew Le Tissier is playing. Another bonus in Le Tissier's absence through injury was the form of Micky Evans who was picked up recently from Plymouth. "Micky's enthusiasm was the thing that appealed to me when I watched him," Souness said, "but he has enough ability to make it in the Premier League."

First, Southampton have to stay there and Evans showed he can make a big contribution to that possibility with a courageous scoring header in the 13th minute, colliding with the far post when meeting a centre from Robbie Slater.

Having one of those days, Miklosko's sloppy clearance had led to the goal so it surprised most people present when he then saved a Jim Magilton penalty.

West Ham made so many mistakes, individual and collective that you began to wonder what was going on out there. When Claus Lundekvam was allowed to bring the ball forward fifty yards to set up a goal for Berkovitch suggestions ranged from daft to downright slanderous.

Souness felt that Southampton had performed as well as at any time since he has been with them. "We've played a lot of good football this season, but let ourselves down with poor defending," he said. "Today we had it together. You can say West Ham didn't play up to their potential but I think that had something to do with the way we went about things.

"A couple of weeks ago things looked pretty bleak but now we have a much better chance and looking at the fixtures [Coventry are at The Dell next Saturday] we could be able to control our own destiny."

A thought about players in struggling teams is why they leave it so late to put in big effort. Why should April be any different to October?

In fantasy, footballers are running around with wires sticking out of their skulls, coaches manipulating from master panels. In truth it comes down to honest endeavour and application of whatever skill is available. When Redknapp confronts his players again this week it will be as simple as that. As basic as a heartbeat which is what West Ham lacked on Saturday.

Goals: Evans (13) 1-0; Berkovitch (36) 2-0.

Southampton: (5-2-1-2) Taylor; Van Gobbel, Dodd, Lundekvam, Benali, Slater; Magilton, Berkovitch (Neilsen, 72); Oakley (Dryden, 54); Evans, Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Maddison, Basham, Beasant (gk).

West Ham United: (5-3-2) Miklosko; Potts, Bilic, Hall, Reiper (Dowie, 45), Rowlands (Lazaridis, 79); Lomas, Bishop (Porfirio, 45), Hughes; Kitson, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Mann, Sealey (gk). Referee: S W Dunn (Bristol)

Bookings: Southampton: Evans. West Ham: Bilic, Hughes, Kitson. Sending- off: Southampton: Dodd (44).

Man of the match: Evans. Attendance: 15,244.