Derby County 2
Dailly 50, Sturridge 88
IT WASN'T a matter of life or death for either side but there was still enough passion and commitment around for five bookings and a sending off to enliven the proceedings which Derby just deserved to win and end a miserable run which has only brought them one victory bonus from their last eight games.
Matters had stuttered along until the 50th minute when Rory Delap just beat Paul Jones to Gary Rowett's corner to flick the ball across the goalmouth where Christian Dailly headed against the crossbar but made no mistake from the rebound.
Five minutes later, Francis Benali was looking at the 11th red card of his career after reacting with his elbows to a bit of shirt-pulling by Dean Sturridge, who was also shown a yellow card. Lee Carsley had already been booked in the first half to start the day's convictions and in quick succession after Benali's dismissal Paulo Wanchope, Robert Kozluk and Matt Le Tissier were booked.
The cynical might say that this was the perfect scenario for the enigma that is Le Tissier - nothing at stake, no pressure and the chance to show some end-of- season tricks to make Glenn Hoddle think. No way. Le Tissier's contribution didn't amount to much more than a 30-yard free-kick inches over Mart Poom's crossbar and an imaginative pass that gave Egil Ostenstad the opening for a weak, disappointing shot.
Wanchope and Sturridge had engineered some early frights for the Southampton defence whose blushes were spared by excellent goalkeeping from Jones, who was voted the club's player of the year. The irony is that the Saints' keeper, such an important factor in their reaching this time of year unaccompanied by the threat of relegation, gifted County their second goal two minutes from the end. Sturridge was hanging around when the keeper clattered his clearance against the striker and the ball rebounded slowly over his goal- line and into the net.
Both managers have intimated they are on the look-out for fresh blood but their seasons are ending on a heartier note than most would have thought nine months ago.