Bournemouth are pushing for promotion from the second division while Portsmouth are fighting both receivership and relegation from the first. Southampton, meanwhile, are always worth a wager in the excitement stakes and their traditional late run continued with a streaky win over Ruud Gullit's riderless Newcastle.
The omens were poor for an individually gifted but collectively ineffective Newcastle - they had not won at The Dell since February 1972 and Alan Shearer has not scored in six matches here since Southampton sold his goals to Blackburn. The run extended to seven after the visiting team's toothless display.
Although the scoreline may suggest that Southampton were dominant, in truth they were mediocre and fortunate to be two goals ahead at the interval. When observers talk of matches being gifted to opponents they have in mind lame back-passes such as Steve Howey's, which gave Southampton the lead. All James Beattie had to do was touch the ball round Shay Given and pass into the empty net.
At that moment Newcastle might as well have run their white shorts up a flag-pole. Their surrender was completed just before half-time as Didier Domi committed a needless foul on Egil Ostenstad, holding him down as the Norwegian attempted to jump for a cross before Alan Dodd thumped in a well-taken penalty. Aside from a couple of Shearer headers and a Nolberto Solano free-kick which struck the bar, a late headed goal from Dietmar Hamann was all that Newcastle could offer.
James Beattie, impressive for England Under-21 against France recently, caught his manager's eye. "At the moment he's got so much power he's thunderboots," remarked Southampton's manager, Dave Jones. "We knew we were signing a player with potential. He hangs in the air so well - the last player I saw like that was big Joe Royle."
Such comparisons are as yet premature and unearned. The 20-year-old Beattie, while ox-strong and sprinter-swift, is missing many qualities from the striker's repertoire including a decent first touch, good close control and Shearer's goal instinct. The young man is no more than promising, and puts one in mind of John Hartson after a week at a health farm.
Despite the win Southampton remain bottom of the Premiership. Bottom, that is, of the 19 clubs with a realistic chance of survival. A visit to Old Trafford next Saturday is unlikely to help their cause as Manchester will surely be more united than Ruud Gullit's fragmented Newcastle.
Goals: Beattie (16) 1-0; Dodd (pen 43) 2-0; Hamann (86) 2-1
Southampton (4-4-2) Jones; Dodd, Colleter, Lundekvam, Marsden; Kachloul (D Hughes, 84), Ripley (Bridge, h-t), Oakley; Ostenstad, Beattie (Bradley, 75). Substitutes not used: Hiley, Moss (gk).
Newcastle United (3-5-2) Given; Domi, Charvet, Howey; Dabizas, Speed, Hamann, Brady, Solano (Lee, h-t); Shearer, Ketsbaia Substitutes not used: Georgiadis, Barton, A Hughes, Harper (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Tring). Bookings: Southampton: Kachloul, Lundekvam. Newcastle: Shearer, Howey, Speed, Domi.
Man of the match: Kachloul.
Attendance: 15,244.Reuse content