Dickov's calm finish sets City on comfort trail

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The Independent Football

With the universally acknowledged three divisions within the Premiership sorting themselves out more slowly than usual this season, Manchester City last night achieved what Southampton had themselves been hoping for by rising into the comfort zone of the middle section from the danger area lower down.

With the universally acknowledged three divisions within the Premiership sorting themselves out more slowly than usual this season, Manchester City last night achieved what Southampton had themselves been hoping for by rising into the comfort zone of the middle section from the danger area lower down.

Southampton, who have managed only one top-10 finish in the past decade and have been involved in a relegation struggle seven times during that period, were never convincing and fell to goals in each half by Paul Dickov and Danny Tiatto that left them in the bottom four. So their unreliable home form continues at a ground once regarded as something of a fortress, which has so far seen only one win in its final season before trans-formation into a housing estate.

"We've got to make sure it doesn't become a psychological thing for us," said the Southampton manager, Glenn Hoddle. "I'm really disapp-ointed with the performance. It's the worst we've played." For half an hour City were no better and their manager, Joe Royle, admitted: "We've not really played great. But when we were chasing around at Lincoln two years ago we'd have accepted winning away at Southampton in the Premiership."

Royle was particularly pleased with his defence, which has now achieved three clean sheets in four matches. Over the past year he has been acquiring defenders like some people collect stamps, rather expensively in his case. A complete back four of them was on display last night, including Richard Dunne, who had been impressive at centre-back for the Republic of Ireland against the Nether-lands and Portugal recently, but was used last night at right-back. There will even be more to come, with New-castle's Laurent Charvet due to complete a move in Manchester today.

The inclusion of at least two defensive midfielders also suggested City were taking no chances and Southampton were for the most part comfortably subdued. Matthew Le Tissier, unexpectedly given his second start in the Premiership this season, made little impression, before suffering an injury that kept him off the pitch for the second half along with Matt Oakley. Stuart Ripley and Marian Pahars provided reasonable service from one side in the first half. But there was little from the left, and Nicky Weaver was required to make few saves.

His first came in Southampton's only threat-ening moment in a soporific first quarter of the game, parrying the shot as Pahars cut inside on his left foot before Hassan Kachloul, under pressure, knocked the rebound wide from close in.

City finished the half the hotter after Dickov's goal. The new Scottish international made a good run along the line of defenders and sprinted between two of them on to Jeff Whitley's pass, finishing calmly into the corner.

Pahars moved to the left as Hoddle rejigged, with first Kevin Davies and later James Beattie joining the attack, but the subdued home crowd had only straws to grasp at - like a confident shout for handball against Whitley - until Weaver grasped something more substantial, a late header by Tahar El Khalej, in his usual flamboyant fashion.

City even felt able to give Shaun Goater, last season's leading goalscorer, his first appearance in the Prem-iership, as a substitute for Paulo Wanchope and they received another bonus in the last minute as Tiatto added a second goal with a fierce rising drive from Whitley's pass.

Southampton (3-5-2): Jones; Dodd, Lundekvam, El Khalej; Ripley (Beattie, 71), Oakley (Marsden, h-t), Soltvedt, Kachloul, Bridge; Le Tissier (Davies, h-t), Pahars. Substitutes not used: Moss (gk), Draper.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Dunne, Prior, Howey, Ritchie; Haaland, Wiekens, Whitley, Tiatto; Dickov, Wanchope (Goater, 67). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Bishop, Wright-Phillips, Kennedy.

Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood, Staffs).

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