Football: Toothless Charlton left barking mad

Southampton 3

Kachloul 8, Colleter 54, Beattie 89

Charlton Athletic 1

Hunt 13

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 15,222

IN THE dog-eat-dog fight at the bottom of the Premiership down in the Dell yesterday, Southampton's bite proved as good as their bark and Charlton's did not. Victory carried the home side above their visitors, who again paraded prettily between the two penalty areas, but rarely showed their teeth in either. After this eighth successive league defeat, and 12th game without a victory, their plight is now parlous.

"We need to get out of this run, like Southampton did," said their manager, Alan Curbishley. "We're hoping we can turn it round and our performance suggests we can." It was still a performance without bite in the critical areas, which they seemed to have when routing Southampton 5-0 at the Valley in August.

That defeat, when Southampton's attacking threat was non-existent and the defence even worse - even before their goalkeeper Paul Jones was sent off - had left them at the bottom of the table and their conquerors, in startling contrast, on top of it. While Southampton had remained in the bottom two until yesterday, the south London side have been on a gradual slide, accelerating giddily in recent weeks as goals and good fortune dried up.

Clive Mendonca, scorer of a hat-trick in the play-off final at Wembley last May and then again in the August game, tore a thigh muscle on Christmas Day, prompting Curbishley to step up his pursuit of a new striker. Martin Pringle, loaned from Benfica for the rest of the season, came on as a replacement for Steve Jones, whose hamstring injury will now keep him out for some weeks.

Southampton were rewarded for playing a three-man attack, pushing Mark Hughes up alongside Egil Ostenstad and the improving James Beattie for an early blitz that brought a goal after eight minutes. Danny Mills bundled into Hughes, receiving a yellow card and a free-kick against him that Charlton failed wretchedly to clear. Hughes's shot was blocked and four visiting defenders were on the floor by the time the Moroccan international Hassan Kachloul shot home.

Before capitalising on the lead, or even enjoying it, however, Southampton found it snatched away. Following a left-wing corner, Neil Redfearn's fierce drive was repelled on the line by the French full-back Patrick Colleter; Mark Kinsella returned the ball from the left and Andy Hunt's deft header beat Jones. The rest of the first half was attritional and almost without incident until the very last kick - Mills calmly blocking on the line as Beattie beat the goalkeeper Sasa Ilic in the air.

The Yugoslav's fallibility was in evidence again for the second goal after 54 minutes. Colleter advanced on the left and, when not closed down, unleashed a low shot which squirmed under Ilic's body. Hughes had by then dropped back to a position just behind the other strikers and, as the physical ferocity of the game continued, he was fortunate to remain part of it after lashing out at Eddie Youds. The booking was the fifth of the match and his 12th of the season.

Hughes might have registered a first goal for Saints, on his 20th appearance, a characteristic overhead kick clipping the crossbar. With Pringle on for Steve Jones, Charlton rallied, but Paul Jones's save from Shaun Newton's volley 12 minutes from time was the only one the keeper needed to make.

Threatening again as they played on the break, Southampton might have settled matters as Carlton Palmer's shot was blocked by Chris Powell. In the final minute the home side broke again, without any great resistance, and as Ilic failed to stop Ostenstad, Beattie was left with a simple tap- in to secure three deserved and possibly crucial points.

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