Football; Saints concentrate on building on and off the pitch

Southampton 2 Coventry 1
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The Independent Online
SOUTHAMPTON WON their first match in six months on Saturday but there is still much work to be done - on and off the pitch - before the club is likely to experience any real sense of stability.

While the victory against Coventry was welcome, a defeat at the hands of Eastleigh Borough Council - which last week turned down the Saints planning application for a new stadium - has once again thrown the club's long-term future into doubt.

"This was a huge game for the football club. One of the biggest games in a long long time," Dave Jones, the Southampton manager, said afterwards. "I've tried to play that down this week so that the players haven't suffered the jitters. We absolutely had to get three points today and I'm delighted we've done so," he added.

The win - the first of the season, the first in any competitive fixture since the 4-2 victory at West Ham in April, and the first at home since a defeat of Newcastle in March - was due largely to Matt Le Tissier, who made the two most telling contributions of the encounter. His first, after 24 minutes, was to rise at the far post to head in a cross coolly, and his second, 20 minutes later, was to feed an inch-perfect pass into the box for Egil Ostenstad to meet and put into the net.

"We know what he [Le Tissier] is capable of and, for the first 45 minutes, he was at his best," Jones said. "What we wanted was another 45 minutes from him in the second half but we didn't get the ball to him quickly enough."

Gordon Strachan, the Coventry manager, did not dwell on the two gilt- edged chances his side missed - Darren Huckerby headed over when he should have scored after 58 minutes and then Steve Froggatt shot wide in front of an open goal two minutes later - and was happy that Dion Dublin had at least scored a consolation goal. He might have concerns, however, if his team - who managed to move up a place despite losing - continue to throw away similar opportunities regularly.

Jones will not have been too unhappy with his side's overall performance. With Mark Hughes settling into his creative midfield role, and with Ostenstad, Le Tissier and Stuart Ripley all playing to their potential, the Saints have an improved shape and determination.

Desperate though the situation might still appear - Jones' team are still three points adrift at the bottom with five points from 10 games. "There's a long way to go and I know I'm stating the obvious," Jones said. "But we fully deserved to get a point [from the 1-1 draw] at Arsenal last weekend and that helped give us the confidence to play the way we did today. It's important now that we build on this result.

"Building, in the literal sense, is something Southampton's chairman, Rupert Lowe, would like to see happening at the club soon. Plans to construct a new 25,000-seat stadium at Stoneham, near junction five of the M27 and close to Southampton airport, have been under discussion for eight years but last week, Eastleigh Council, the authority within which the proposed site lies, effectively refused permission for the project by rejecting proposals for commercial facilities that would accompany the stadium. "It is all very well saying "yes" to community facilities and stadia if you say "no" to the financial engine to create them," Lowe said in Saturday's programme notes. The council, while not opposing a "community stadium" - for athletics, gymnastics and county sports events as well as football - in principle, have rejected plans by Southampton Leisure Holdings plc (the company that owns the football club) to build a supermarket and multiplex cinema alongside their proposed new ground at Stoneham to add commercial viability to the plan.

The Dell - maximum capacity, 15,252 - is simply not big enough to sustain a Premiership football club, with all its attendant financial demands for transfer fees and wages, in the current era, and Lowe, a businessman with a background in the City, is now looking to an alternative site, a disused gasworks, in the St Mary's area of the city. "We will submit a detailed planning application within two to three weeks as part of an ongoing process designed to deliver a new stadium as soon as is humanly possible," Lowe said. "A new home is vital to keep Southampton the only city on the south coast [indeed, south of London] with a Premier League club."

Goals: Le Tissier (24) 1-0; Ostenstad (44) 2-0; Dublin (60) 2-1.

Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Hiley, Lundekvam, Monkou, Benali; Ripley, Hughes, Howells (Palmer, 48), Oakley (Bridge, 70); Ostenstad (Beattie, 86), Le Tissier. Substitutes not used: Moss (gk), Dryden.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson (Telfer, 70), Shaw, Breen, Burrows (Edworthy, h-t); Whelan, Boateng (Soltvedt, 77), McAllister, Froggatt; Huckerby, Dublin. Substitutes not used: Williams, Ogrizovic (gk).

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Bookings: Southampton Le Tissier. Coventry: Boateng, Whelan.

Man of the match: Le Tissier.

Attendance: 15,152.