SOUTHAMPTON's defeat by Nottingham Forest on Saturday showed just how capable both sides are of performing contrary to expectation.
The Saints - for probably the first time in a decade - started the season without being among the sides most pundits thought were destined for relegation. The summer addition of experienced and proven players (Mark Hughes, David Howells, Stuart Ripley) to a squad which produced some fine performances in the past year from unlikely sources (Paul Jones, Carlton Palmer) led many to think they could be an exciting proposition and, if not actually become contenders for any honours, at least replicate the 12th place they achieved in the Premiership in May.
Saturday's result, the third defeat in three games this season, gave little credence to the theory. "We are not a team that is playing with confidence at the moment," Dave Jones, the Southampton manager, offered in explanation afterwards. "It is annoying and baffling after I have brought in so many quality players to the club. I can't put my finger on the problem but we just did not perform."
Although there were encouraging signs from some quarters - Matt Le Tissier played an assured 90 minutes of thoughtful football and earned and scored a last- minute consolation penalty - the sum of Southampton's parts still added up to something less than a whole lot.
Forest, by contrast, seen as bankers by many to free-fall straight back to the Nationwide, produced a determined display - typified by the relentless effort of Steve Stone - that should postpone, if not stop, talk of relegation. Jean-Claude Darcheville, the speedy Frenchman, scored a composed goal to put Forest ahead in the 53rd minute after being set up by Stone, and then Stone himself made it two 16 minutes later.
"I am not convinced this was his [Darcheville's] best performance for us," said Dave Bassett, the visitor's manager. "Still, if he keeps scoring goals when he is not at his best, I won't complain."
As for Southampton, perhaps time will help the mixture of old hands, new faces and youth to gel better, but with Paul Jones, the goalkeeper, suspended for their next match, and three defeats behind them, it will take some motivating to help them live up to new - and loftier than usual - expectations.
Goals: Darcheville (53) 0-1; Stone (69) 0-2; Le Tissier pen (90) 1-2.
Southampton (4-3-1-2): Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Dryden, Hiley (Beattie, 79); Ripley (Bridge, 66), Howells, Palmer; Le Tissier; Ostenstad, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Lundekvam, Gibbens, Moss (gk). Nottingham Forest (4-5-1): Beasant; Bonalair, Armstrong, Chettle, Rogers; Stone, Johnson, Gemmill, Thomas, Hodges; Darcheville (Freedman, 79). Substitutes not used: Quashie, Lyttle, Edwards, Crossley (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Bookings: Southampton: Hughes, Ripley. Forest: Stone.
Man of the match: Stone.
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