Football: Precious point for cautious Saints

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The Independent Online
Derby County 0

Southampton 0

Attendance: 26,557

PRESUMABLY, IT'S like this to be under-anaesthetised in the dentist's chair: partly numb, subject to indiscriminate bursts of pain, and only staying put on the dubious understanding that the whole thing might be for the greater good.

Southampton's vocal supporters endured what, for them, was the hideous tension of a profoundly ordinary game, but rejoiced in the gleaning of a rare away point which - combined with results elsewhere - might retrospectively turn their visit to Pride Park into a glorious season-saving memory.

Discretion being the better part of valour, Southampton plumped for a cautious interpretation of Matthew Le Tissier's late fitness test and allowed his thigh an extra week's recovery time. He is the luxury life- raft who needs to be absolutely water-tight for the choppy waters that lie ahead.

Marians Pahars, who tossed out last week's lifeline at the Dell, started instead; as did Ken Monkou in place of the suspended Claus Lundekvam. Top-scorer Egil Ostenstad was left on the bench in deference to James Beattie, as the Saints sought to increase their miserly total of only six away goals in the Premiership.

All of which team tinkering may or may not have contributed to a first half, which for the most part, was incoherent and inconsequential.

Southampton's greater need was suitably represented in the marginally heavier workload undertaken by Derby's goalkeeper Mart Poom (filling the gloves of the suspended Russell Hoult). But even he was only seriously inconvenienced once. Beattie, having flummoxed Jacob Laursen fired to the near post where Pahars inexplicably missed his kick with his fellow Latvian hopelessly marooned.

Necessarily, the start of the second half brought a mild improvement, not least from a hitherto passionless Derby for whom Stefan Schnoor became a prominent attacker together with substitute Rory Delap.

Even so, more than an hour had passed when Darryl Powell drew from Southampton goalkeeper Neil Moss his first save of the afternoon. Soon after, Paolo Wanchope steered a typically leggy shot wide of Moss's near post and Dean Sturridge caused the keeper to narrow another dangerous angle.

Meanwhile, Saints had been able to reintroduce John Beresford, who had been out of action since incurring cartilage damage on the season's opening day. His dubious privilege was to try to handle Sturridge whose appetite had obviously been sharpened on the substitute's bench and whose ferocious pace became a significant factor in a frantic finale.

He, Wanchope, Powell and Kevin Harper all threatened the goal which might have been fatal to Southampton's hopes of survival as the desperate visitors finished the game on the back foot.

But it didn't come. So, as Derby canter comfortably towards the end of their season, Southampton can still hope to avert the end of their world.