Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
FOR a team in a relegation battle, Southampton's first half was surprisingly short on fighting qualities. Or, indeed, any quality at all. But step up Matt Le Tissier, 22 yards out, seconds away from half- time, and the whole picture changed. As has happened so many occasions before, his inspiration saved the Saints; lump them all
together over the season and he has saved them from relegation.
Le Tissier was, in fact, fairly quiet for most of the game, but when three strokes of genius produce three goals, no one is going to complain about the odd touchline reverie. Instead, all and sundry were stretching for the superlatives, Alan Ball chiming in with 'most ability in the country'.
Le Tissier showed strength of character as well as unmatched ability. His first goal was curled neatly into the net in front of a North Bank that had marked its last stand by hurling abuse at his every touch. The look on his face when he and his picked-on proboscis turned in celebration showed the determination inspired by adversity.
He saved Southampton's second for his own fans in the Bobby Moore stand, teasing Tim Breacker with the ball at his feet before crossing plumb on to Neil Maddison head for a well-executed nod home.
A Le Tissier penalty and a premature pitch invasion later, it
became clear that Southampton could not be relegated, even if they did throw away their 3-2 lead. So no one minded when Lee Chapman scored in the dying seconds; the Southampton celebrations were already well under way and the North Bank were back on the pitch again.
This brought the game to a close, a good minute before the full 90 were up. So in sense, Le Tissier's remarkable season never came to an end. While, under Ball's inspiration, he has kept Premiership football at The Dell for another season, Ball's job is now to keep Le Tissier at The Dell for another season, too. This may not be a problem as Ball said that his 'genius' wants to see his contract out, and there is a year of it to run. But having signed off on such an impressive note - 15 goals in his last 16 games - Le Tissier is bound to keep the transfer hotline busy all summer.
Goals: Williamson (11) 1-0; Le Tissier (45) 1-1; Maddison (52) 1-2; M Allen (62) 2-2; Le Tissier pen (65) 2-3; Chapman (89) 3-3.
West Ham United (4-5-1): Miklosko; Breacker, Gale, Potts, Burrows; Rush, Bishop (Chapman, 70), Marsh, M Allen, Williamson; Morley. Substitutes not used: Brown, Kelly (gk).
Southampton (5-3-2): Beasant; Kenna, Monkou, Widdrington, Benali, Charlton; P Allen, Magilton, Maddison; Dowie, Le Tissier. Substitutes not used: Maskell, Dodd, Andrews (gk).
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).