Football: There must have been plenty of choice words flying around in Southampton's quarters. You could hear it in Souness's voice, see it in strained features

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When Graeme Souness inspected the going at Elm Park on Saturday morning, he came quickly to the conclusion that it was unplayable. The apprehension felt by Southampton's beleaguered manager was understandable; enough to be bottom of the Premier League without having to contend with predictably combative opposition on a frost-bound pitch that would ask serious questions of attitude and resolution.

This is the other side of the FA Cup. Never mind the romance, think about the heartache. Jobs perhaps at stake, careers on the line. "Go out and fight for the right to prove the better team" sounds fine in the dressing- room but will they carry it out for you?

Probably, Souness had this in mind when he first fell into conflict with the referee, Graham Poll. "When I complained about the conditions he came out with two incredible statements," Souness said. "The first that it was like playing on a pitch in August. The second that it would be all right if the players went at 90 per cent. Ninety per cent! I told him it was a Cup tie: how could he expect players to do that?"

By then Souness was standing just outside the dressing-room tunnel shortly after stewards had prevented him from confronting Poll following his side's 3-1 defeat. "This referee is known to professionals in the game as someone who is trying to make a name for himself," Souness added, anger in his eyes. "It's the second time in a week that he's made teams play when the pitch wasn't playable."

What Souness said to his men is a different matter. Two sent off, bad defending, a Cup defeat adding to the manager's mounting problems. Matt Le Tissier never more than a peripheral figure. "A class player," Reading's joint-manager, Jimmy Quinn, said. "Given room he'll murder you, but we set out to close him down."

In the circumstances Southampton needed more from Le Tissier than his enigmatic reputation. The notion of unappreciated quality is growing threadbare. Even allowing for a recent injury, what it came down to again was an obvious lack of commitment; the most talented player on the field went missing. A pass here, a shot there, but little that could be described as inspirational.

Careless defending has brought about a crisis at Southampton and it helped Reading achieve a well deserved victory. How can a manager budget for the sort of mistake that enabled Adrian Williams to get back on a ball that should have been cleared instantly from Southampton's penalty area? Williams prodded it square and James Lambert scored.

Souness clutched his head at nightmare's reappearance and again when a chance came and went at the other end.

The start of the second half saw a distinct change in Southampton's approach to the conditions. Instead of trying to tip-toe through Reading's resolute midfield they got the ball forward quicker, and were immediately rewarded when Eyal Berkovitch put Egil Ostenstad through for an equaliser. "I thought things would turn for us then," Souness said.

That they did not was largely to do with Reading's well organised effort and reminders that Darren Caskey was once considered to be one of Tottenham Hotspur's most promising young players. One of those who lose their way in the game, Caskey gave glimpses of what might have been, invariably selecting the right option. The perfect option was the volley Caskey sent past Dave Beasant when Trevor Morley headed a centre from Lambert back across goal.

Soon, Southampton were in deeper trouble. Benali, sent off twice in the Premier League this season, earned another red card when appearing to elbow Morley, who converted the penalty. "If it was an elbow, then Benali deserved to go," Souness said. He was less sure about the dismissal of Robbie Slater, who joined Benali in the dressing-room after arguing with a linesman. "Slater says he didn't swear," Souness added.

Mind you, there must have been plenty of choice words flying around in Southampton's quarters. You could hear it in Souness's voice, see it in strained features. A hard man finding it difficult to contain his anger. Giantkillers. Who needs them?

Goals: Lambert (19) 1-0; Ostenstad (49) 1-1; Caskey (55) 2-1; Morley (76 pen) 3-1.

Reading (3-5-2): Mikhailov; McPherson, Holsgrove, Bernal; Booty, Williams (Glasgow, 87), Gooding, Caskey, Gilkes; Morley, Lambert. Substitutes not used: Quinn, Lovell.

Southampton (3-5-2): Beasant; Maddison, Lundekvam (Watson, 73), Benali; Van Gobbel (Oakley, 63), Slater, Magilton, Berkovitch, Robinson (Charlton, 68); Le Tissier, Ostenstad.

Referee: G Poll (Tring)

Bookings: Southampton Le Tissier, Van Gobbel. Reading Holsgrove. Sent off: Southampton Benali (75), Slater (90).

Man of the match: Caskey.

Attendance: 11,537.

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