Football: Stability the key word for Saints

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The Independent Online
THOUGH KENNY DALGLISH and Christian Gross may not agree, there are leagues where management is even more precarious than in the Premiership. Before August was out four managers had been sacked in Brazil, one of them after just one game; a Cypriot club had fired their new boss for losing two friendlies; Empoli, in Italy, had dumped theirs before the season had even begun while Real Betis kicked off in Spain with their third manager in four weeks.

While managers have long accepted that the only certainty in their profession is the sack this is clearly excessive. The one compensatory factor in many countries is that he only deals with the first team and a dismissal does not affect the club as a whole.

Traditionally this is not the case in England with a change in management often being followed by the introduction of new coaching staff right down to youth level. Though a few clubs have moved to the Continental model progress is slow which makes the discovery that 50 of the 92 League managers have only held their current jobs since the beginning of last year quite worrying.

Thirty of those have been appointed in 1998 while only seven of the 92 have been in the job for at least five years (The five-year survivors are: Dario Gradi, Crewe Alexandra, June 1983; Alex Ferguson, Manchester United, November 1986; Alan Curbishley, Charlton, July 1991; Joe Kinnear, Wimbledon, March 1992; John Duncan, Chesterfield, February 1993; Alan Little, York City, March 1993; Sammy McIlroy, Macclesfield, June 1993).

All of which makes the survival of David Jones appear, on the face of it, remarkable. After all, Dalglish had overseen two draws and Gross a win and two defeats when they got the bullet. Jones went into Saturday's match with Tottenham with five league defeats out of five, the club's worst-ever start.

For many years being overlord at The Dell was a relative sinecure. A retirement watch was more likely than the sack as Ted Bates, Lawrie McMenemy and Chris Nicholl held sway from 1955 to the beginning of the decade with barely a hint of an execution.

But then Southampton caught the spirit of the times with changes in dug- out and boardroom. Somehow, through all this upheaval, they maintained a top flight status they have held since 1978 but, until last season, the escapes were frequently last-gasp.

Jones' impressive first campaign has understandably bought him time but, he explained after the 1-1 draw, there is more to it than that. "People ask `is your job under pressure?' but you can't just throw away 12 months' work. A lot is being done behind the scenes to strengthen the club at all levels. The foundations are there, it is a matter of keeping the first team on a level at the same time."

Southampton's chairman, Rupert Lowe, is footballing nouveau riche having only come to the sport in the last couple of years. Ted Bates, however, is president and Keith Wiseman, the FA chairman, an influential voice on the board. To judge from Wiseman's support for Glenn Hoddle he is not a hire 'em, fire 'em type.

Jones' belief in a positive future was given substance on Saturday by the performances of three teenagers, Kevin Gibbens, Wayne Bridge and Phil Warner. While all appeared out of their depth at times each showed enough promise to suggest the production line which once produced the Wallace brothers, Alan Shearer, Tim Flowers and Matt Le Tissier is working again which, for a club of Southampton's resources, is imperative.

Le Tissier is still there, as infuriating as ever. Jones is constantly leaving him out, and constantly having to recall him. Saturday's performance was typical. He was lazy, indulgent and a prime reason for Southampton being overrun in midfield. He was also behind most moves of consequence and scored a classy goal, the 200th of his Southampton career, which transformed the game.

Until then Southampton, full of players whose best days are ahead or behind them but few at their peak, had been taken apart by Tottenham.

Defensively inept they showed their lack of confidence, confirmed by a record of one Premiership win and nine defeats since April. After a misleadingly bright start, when Bridge should have scored, they conceded possession and ground and were punished by Ruel Fox's neat shot-on-the- turn.

Then Jones pulled the previously anonymous Mark Hughes into midfield, pushed Le Tissier forward, and within minutes the Welshman released the Channel Islander for his equaliser. Southampton, their confidence renewed, might well have gone on to win it but Hans Segers, in his first Premiership match since New Year's Day 1996, capped an impeccable display of handling with a sharp save from Gibbens.

Such is the game's psychology Southampton will now feel more buoyant than might be expected of a team in last place. Tottenham, meanwhile, have seven points from six games despite the softest opening programme of the Premiership. They now renew their search for a new manager, Alan Sugar's sixth, amid continued uncertainty about their ownership. When he reflects upon the dreary football of the past four years, and the constant battles with relegation, Sugar may reflect that perhaps he should have stuck with Ossie Ardiles after all.

Goals: Fox (25) 0-1; Le Tissier (53) 1-1.

Southampton (4-3-1-2): Jones; Warner (Lundekvam, 53), Dodd, Palmer, Benali; Gibbens, Howells (Beattie, 53), Bridge; Le Tissier; Ostenstad, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Hiley, Bashem, Moss (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1): Segers; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Tremezzani; Fox, Calderwood, Berti (Dominguez, 74), Clemence; Ginola; Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Edinburgh, Gower, Armstrong, Walker (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

Bookings: Southampton: Benali. Tottenham: Calderwood, Tremanezzi.

Man of the match: Segers.

Attendance: 15,204.