Draws at this stage of the season are little better than defeats for teams craving safety but Southampton will not be complaining. Luck seemed to have deserted them when, capriciously, it turned round and came to their aid with one minute remaining at the Baseball Ground last night.
With Derby's feel-good factor riding high thanks to Ashley Ward's strike and the prospect of crossing the 40-point barrier, an own goal from Darryl Powell pegged them back and uplifted the Saints.
It secured a point that even the most biased Derby supporter could hardly begrudge them. After a desperate start they were the superior team, hitting the bar through Eyal Berkovitch and being denied by a series of excellent saves from Russell Hoult. After winning at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, Southampton appear to have found a reserve of resilience that might yet save them.
"It was a scrappy goal," Graeme Souness, Southampton's manager, said, "but frankly I couldn't care how the ball goes in as long as it crosses the line. It would have been an injustice if we had gone away from the Baseball Ground without some reward. We have three home games left and if we win those we will stay up. Our destiny is in our own hands.''
Which did not appear to be the case in the first 23 minutes when, but for Jason Dodd, the visitors might have been trailing 3-0. The Southampton defender cleared off the line twice from Dean Sturridge and then got in the way of Ward's shot.
Dodd apart, there was little to recommend Southampton during this period, particularly as Matthew Le Tissier limped off with a hamstring strain during it. But Berkovitch and Jim Magilton seized control of midfield and slowly they assumed control to an extent that Jim Smith, the Derby manager, had to withdraw his play-maker Aljosa Asanovic, to alter the pattern with Paulo Cesar Wanchope, the scorer of a marvellous goal against Manchester United on Saturday. His introduction was always an attractive option, and he did not disappoint.
An delightful backheel from the Costa Rican striker split the Southampton defence and Daryl Powell charged through it, firing a fierce shot that Maik Taylor did wonders to stop. The save deserved better but the rebound fell to Ward, who found a gap on the crowded goal line from eight yards.
Southampton poured forward: Hoult, a substitute for the injured Mart Poom, saved splendidly from Magilton and Egil Ostenstad and it appeared that nothing would go Southampton's way when Berkovitch's header after 82 minutes hit the bar. With a minute left, however, Hoult dived again to stop Berkovitch and the ball hit Darryl Powell's shin and bounced across the line.
Derby County (4-4-2): Poom (Hoult, h-t); Rowett, Laursen, Dailly, C Powell; Van der Laan (Willems, 85), Trollope, D Powell, Asanovic (Wanchope, 58); Ward, Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Simpson, Carbon.
Southampton (4-4-1-1): Taylor; Van Gobbel, Dodd, Lundekvam, Benali; Oakley, Berkovitch, Magilton, Slater; Le Tissier (Evans, 15); Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Beasant (gk), Madison, Neilson, Dryden.
Referee: G Willard (Worthing).Reuse content