Football: Odd couple enjoying new life together

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday 1 Southampton 1

After Rangers and Liverpool, even after Galatasaray, it did seem a peculiar marriage, a mistake waiting to be confirmed. Graeme Souness and Southampton? Surely not.

So far, so wrong. Ten weeks into the season, the one-time fire-breathing dragon of Ibrox and Anfield has not only made himself at home along the Premiership's sleepiest backwater. He is also, quietly but decisively, making the partnership work.

In this short time, Souness has swept aside the relegation fodder he inherited and constructed in its place a team with possibilities that extend much further than being a blip on Manchester United's progress graph. That 6-3 scoreline may be destined for south coast folklore but in its immediate context - the important one from the manager's perspective - it is one match unbeaten among seven.

Typically, Souness has bought busily. Untypically, he has spent little, at least compared with the wilder days of his past. Southampton's kitty is pounds 4.2m lighter since he came but for that outlay he has eight players.

Given that the Dutch defender Ulrich van Gobbel, at pounds 1.3m from Galatasaray, is the most expensive, it is hardly surprising that none is a household name. Some might become so, however, not least among them Eyal Berkovitch, the 24-year-old Israeli international who was the scourge of United and who again gave notice of his considerable gifts. Against a Wednesday side with five in midfield, Berkovitch found his work space often limited yet twice in a compelling first half made clever passes from which Matt le Tissier almost scored.

Le Tissier, functioning now as a cog in the wheel rather than the wheel itself, is in splendid form and the penalty which earned Southampton a point after Ian Nolan had tripped Egil Ostenstadt raised his Premiership goals tally to eight for the season, one more than he managed through the entire 1995-96 campaign.

It cancelled out the 14th-minute header by Jon Newsome, scored when Southampton - still intoxicated from the glory of the previous Saturday, in their manager's estimation - were sleeping on the job. Not that Wednesday were flattered to have been in front, having contributed much imaginative play in which two more foreigners, Benito Carbone and Orlando Trustfull, featured prominently. Chris Woods, picking up the threads of his Premiership career against his former club, pulled off three goal-saving stops in the first half alone.

"There were a lot of talented players out there and not many hatchet men," said David Pleat, disregarding the result as he often does to view the bigger picture. Clever football invariably excites the Wednesday manager. After 10 matches without a win, however, the cares of the job are beginning to intrude upon his fun.

Goals: Newsome (14) 1-0; Le Tissier pen (50) 1-1.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-5-1): Pressman; Atherton, Newsome, Walker, Nolan; Carbone (Humphreys, 87), Oakes (Whittingham, 79), Hyde, Trustfull (Blinker, 70), Pembridge; Booth. Substitutes not used: Stefanovic, Clarke (gk).

Southampton (3-4-2-1): Woods; Van Gobbel, Lundekvam (Magilton, 61), Dryden (Potter, 82); Oakley (Slater, 77), Neilson, Dodd, Charlton; Le Tissier, Berkovitch; Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Watson, Beasant (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Newsome. Southampton: Van Gobbel.

Man of the match: Berkovitch. Attendance: 20,106.