Football: Peril lies ahead for Southampton

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The Independent Online
Chelsea. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

THE barometer of footballing fate which for some has swung dramatically back and forth in the last few portentous days appears fixed in a downward direction for Southampton. After two heavy defeats, the spectre of a treble they do not want looms large this afternoon.

Southampton have become imperilled on the rocks of relegation, while their rivals in distress gain a foothold to safety. Those now looking up include Manchester City, who are at The Dell today. Spring has sprung and summer beckons, but a dark and cold future awaits the losers of this one.

It is the latest challenge for the Southampton manager, whose career has encountered more big hurdles than most. Alan Ball the player mostly found a way to clamber over them; Ball the manager has not always risen so high and he needs to make friends quickly with lady luck if a second relegation from the top flight with a south-coast club is not to spoil his cv

After this latest setback, Ball considered the 'unthinkable' and painted a doom scenario if City were to triumph. 'If we lose, we are buried,' he said. It was the grimmest of gut feelings which then gave way to a more reasoned perspective. 'There are still 10 and a half hours football to be played, and we are not down by a long shot, but this is the one for us just as Blackburn v Manchester United was the one for them.'

After a debut victory at Newcastle and the routing of Liverpool in his homecoming, Ball was bouncing just about as high as it was possible to get. Since then the flaws in a system which employs a sweeper at the expense of a midfield creator and is top-heavy in its reliance on Matt Le Tissier's brilliance have been exposed.

Southampton have scored just twice in the last six games and, though they had a period of supremacy here in which Iain Dowie hit the post, they were made to suffer through an inability to defend corners. From two Dennis Wise deliveries, it was Chelsea who got the vital touches and Dave Beasant who was reduced to the back-bending pose the boys at the Bridge know only too well.

By now Chelsea, safely clear of the scramble beneath them, had shaken off their first-half inertia and were beginning to put on a show. Tony Cascarino had emerged for the first time since December - his summons arriving courtesy of the hailstorm which, Glenn Hoddle reasoned, made it impossible to by-pass defenders on the ground.

Big Cas may have done enough to earn a place at Wembley against Luton because, for once, he is fit while others are struck down and yesterday Hoddle did not have an idea of the team he could put out against Newcastle today.

So, if it is hail Cascarino, it could also be farewell Saints after 16 years in the top grade. They have a game in hand but the statistics show 20 defeats and not even Swindon have mananged that. In addition, they have also still to face Manchester United and Blackburn.

Goals: Spencer (44) 1-0; Johnsen (80) 2-0.

Chelsea:(4-4-2): Kharin; Clarke, Johnsen, Kjeldbjerg, Sinclair; Burley, Newton, Peacock, Wise; Hopkin (Cascarino, h-t), Spencer (Barnard, 86). Substitute not used: Hitchcock (gk).

Southampton (3-5-2): Beasant; Monkou, Benali, Wood (Maskell, 75); Kenna (Dodd, 75) Adams, Magilton, Maddison, Charlton; Le Tissier, Dowie. Substitute not used: Andrews (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

(Photograph omitted)