Southampton 3 Blackburn Rovers 0
AS Blackburn's chances of challenging for the Premiership title receded on Saturday, Southampton demonstrated that mere safety is no longer their only ambition. "Being 11 points behind Manchester United would suggest it would take some kind of miracle to overtake them," Roy Hodgson, the Blackburn manager, said.
Hodgson was unhappy with the Saints' first two goals - he said that Egil Ostenstad's tap-in after 19 minutes looked offside and David Hirst's volley 12 minutes from time should not have counted after an alleged push on Colin Hendry. He added, however: "I was most disappointed with the third goal."
That move started inside the Southampton half, led to a telling pass from the resurgent Matt Le Tissier, and ended with Ostenstad rounding Tim Flowers to secure the points. "We didn't play well and Southampton deserved their win," the Rovers manager concluded.
His counterpart, Dave Jones, said: "We got what we deserved today, it was us at our best. And we rode our luck a bit as well. The expectations at the club and among the supporters are high now. I just want to get to safety with five or six games left and then we can start blooding youngsters and try playing neat and tidy football while not being under pressure.''
Saturday's result demonstrated how far Southampton have progressed in recent months. When they travelled to Blackburn in October and lost 1- 0, the result left the Saints second from bottom and their hosts second from top.
The game in the autumn had seen Southampton without Le Tissier and Ostenstad and saw Hirst make his debut, with the rest of the team still settling down. On Saturday Le Tissier was inspired (not least by Glenn Hoddle watching from the stand), Hirst, despite four wasted chances, was constantly involved, and Paul Jones made five superb saves. And all this with what Dave Jones called "the bare bones" of a squad, without his leading scorer Kevin Davies and the defenders Ken Monkou and John Beresford.
Blackburn were not without chances, not least through Martin Dahlin, deputising for the injured Chris Sutton. The Swede had several shots saved by Jones, and created chances for both Garry Flitcroft and the tenacious young Irishman, Damien Duff, but they either miscued when in range or were thwarted by the goalkeeper.
Tim Sherwood and Billy McKinlay were also constant innovators, but where Sutton might have provided an obvious focus for sweeping attacks, his absence appeared to leave Rovers lacking conviction to find goal. "Sutton's a quality player and you miss your quality players. But it is very easy to say he was missed when you didn't win the game," Hodgson said.
Goals: Ostenstad (1-0) 19; Hirst (2-0) 78; Ostenstad (3-0) 88.
Southampton (4-3-1-2): Jones; Benali, Lundekvam, Dryden, Dodd; Oakley, Palmer, Richardson (Hughes, 80); Le Tissier; Hirst, Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Moss (gk), Todd, Spedding, Williams.
Blackburn (4-4-2): Flowers; Croft, Hendry, Broomes, Kenna; Duff, Sherwood, McKinlay, Flitcroft (Ripley, 69); Gallacher, Dahlin (Beattie, 69). Substitutes not used: Fettis (gk), Wilcox, Valery.
Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).
Bookings: Southampton: Dodd. Blackburn: Broomes, Hendry.
Man of the match: Le Tissier.