Boksic spoils Saints' day of celebration

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The Independent Online

Southampton were hoping to celebrate the news that Glenn Hoddle had signed an 18-month extension to his contract, which now runs until July 2002, and that the new stadium had found a sponsor, Friends Provident, by recording their fifth successive victory. Instead, it was Middles- brough who left The Dell for the last time with all three points.

Southampton were hoping to celebrate the news that Glenn Hoddle had signed an 18-month extension to his contract, which now runs until July 2002, and that the new stadium had found a sponsor, Friends Provident, by recording their fifth successive victory. Instead, it was Middles- brough who left The Dell for the last time with all three points.

Had luck - or Alen Boksic - been on Southampton's side, they might have won comfort-ably. They dominated throughout, but continue to lack the necessary firepower.

They should have taken an early lead. Matthew Le Tissier, starting his first Premiership game of the season, headed the ball straight at Gary Walsh after a couple of minutes, and Uwe Rösler then failed to connect with a wonderful Marian Pahars free-kick from the right.

If only the Saints had a finisher of Boksic's quality. In the 16th minute he collected a 40-yard crossfield pass, from the France international Christian Karembeu, on the left side of the Southampton area. He skipped past the lunging challenges of Dean Richards and Claus Lundekvam before coolly slotting a left-foot shot beyond Paul Jones. "A wonderful goal," Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, said. "We always know Alen can produce something special and he did that today."

Southampton refused to give in and continued to play enterprising football, but, as with the first goal, Middlesbrough made the most of their rare attacks. Karembeu's corner was cleared as far as Keith O'Neill, who knocked the ball to Hamilton Ricard at the back post. The Colombian international nodded the ball across the goalmouth and Gianluca Festa picked his spot.

The Boksic-Ricard combination nearly put Middlesbrough further ahead nine minutes after half-time. Matt-hew Oakley lost possession in midfield, Robbie Mustoe released Boksic down the right and he chipped to the back post. Ricard's header was goal-bound, but Jones saved smartly. Seconds later, Southampton almost pulled one back when Le Tissier's deep centre found the head of El-Khalej. The Moroccan's effort was even better than Ricard's, but then so too was Walsh's one-handed save.

Southampton went close again when Jason Dodd's 60th- minute cross was met by El- Khalej's outstretched foot. This time, Walsh was beaten, but the post came to his rescue. Then the substitute Trond Soltvedt shot through a mêlée of players on to the same post.

"When you make as many chances as we did, you'd expect to win," Hoddle said. "So it was a real kick in the teeth not to get something out of the game." His prayers were finally answered 10 minutes from time. James Beattie rose high to help the ball on to Pahars at the far post, whoscored with a well-directed header.

The joy was short-lived, though. Southampton fans were still celebrating when Jones palmed O'Neill's harmless cross straight at Boksic, who secured his second from four yards.

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