Football: Pahars makes double payment on stadium

Southampton 2 Everton 0
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The Independent Online
MARIANS PAHARS, the 22-year-old striker nicknamed "the Latvian Michael Owen" scored two goals for Southampton yesterday to ensure that his side will start a 22nd consecutive season in the top flight of English football come August.

The Saints only managed to sign Pahars - from Skonto Riga for pounds 800,000 on transfer deadline day - at the third attempt, after two applications for a work permit had been denied. His first goal for the club, an equaliser in the 3-3 home draw against Blackburn in April that began an unbeaten five-match run-in, had already made him a local hero. His second and third goals confirmed his status.

In the event, with Charlton losing to Sheffield Wednesday, the Saints could have lost and still maintained their Premiership status, but there was never any question that Dave Jones' side were intent on taking all three points.

Staying up was more than a matter of playing in the Premiership or the First Division. Had Southampton gone down, the feasibility of the club's proposed new 30,000-seater stadium would have been thrown into doubt. Although their chairman, Rupert Lowe, had said that relegation would not affect plans to move to the new venue in the St Marys area of the city in time for the start of the 2000-2001 season, he had also said that "the move will depend on finance". It does not take a genius to realise that demotion from the top flight, with the subsequent loss of earnings of some pounds 8m per season, would have made it more difficult to raise the required capital for the new ground.

"Can you not see the weight off my shoulders?" Jones said afterwards. "All we have done this week is concentrate on getting the result and we got it. We needed to get stuck in and get an early goal and we did."

Of his young Latvian, he said: "We knew Pahars could do well and what you saw today is just a taste of things to come. He has a big future." Of the escape from relegation, he added: "This is something we never want to go through again."

If his side could only maintain a season of performances such as yesterdays, Southampton would not be perenial strugglers. They are never likely to compete for honours, and only in the most remarkable of seasons would they be likely to be knocking on Europe's door, but they can certainly aim for the mid-table type of security that clubs such as Derby, Wimbledon and Leicester have achieved in recent years.

The breakthrough yesterday came after 25 minutes when James Beattie, the England Under-21 striker who was named as the clubs Player of the Year before kick-off, headed on a long ball to Pahars. The Everton defence had gone Awol and Pahars had acres of space in which to control the ball and move in on goal. He took his time before shooting to ensure that his effort would leave Thomas Myhre in the Everton goal no hope.

Southampton visibly relaxed after the goal, but in a way that let them play more confidently rather than dangerously. Matt Le Tissier, the veteran of many relegation scraps, saw one long-range effort go narrowly over the bar seven minutes before half-time, and then laid on a beautiful pass to Beattie, who could not control the ball.

Another 35-yard from Le Tissier on the stroke of half-time was also only just wide, but it signalled the intent of the Saints. After 68 minutes, Beattie received the ball on the right wing and ran strongly past two defenders before squeezing in a cross. Pahars was on hand in the box and there was never any chance that his diving header would be stopped. Everton, 6-0 winners last week against West Ham, rarely threatened.

Perhaps Kevin Campbell, the scorer of nine goals since his return home from Turkey, felt he did not need to do any more to prove to his manager, Walter Smith, that he has the ability to be an asset to the club if only the club can find the money to buy him. "We got what we deserved," was about all Smith said after the game. Southampton fans felt they did, too.

Goals: Pahars (1-0) 25 ; Pahars (2-0) 68. Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Dodd, Lundekvam, Monkou, Benali; Kachloul, Le Tissier (Ostenstad, 85), M Hughes, Marsden; Beattie, Pahars (Beresford, 80). Substitutes not used: Moss, D Hughes, Hiley.

Everton (5-3-2): Myhre; Weir, Short (Bakayoko, 62), Watson, Unsworth, Ball; Hutchison, Dacourt, Gemmill (Degn, 73); Jeffers (Cadamerteri, 62), Campbell. Substitutes not used: Ward, Gerrard.

Referee: G. Barber (Tring).

Bookings: Southampton: Marsden, Le Tissier, Pahars. Everton: Hutchison.

Man of the match: Pahars.

Attendance: 15,254