Draper sets out bright stall

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The Independent Online

The Southampton fans reserved their greatest cheer for the announcement that arch-rivals Portsmouth had lost their opening fixture of the Nationwide First Division, 2-0 at Sheffield United. In truth, but for the performance of Mark Draper, they had little else to celebrate after losing to Spain's Real Sociedad in this final pre-season friendly.

The Southampton fans reserved their greatest cheer for the announcement that arch-rivals Portsmouth had lost their opening fixture of the Nationwide First Division, 2-0 at Sheffield United. In truth, but for the performance of Mark Draper, they had little else to celebrate after losing to Spain's Real Sociedad in this final pre-season friendly.

One minute. That is how long it will have taken the club's faithful to come down to earth following the excitement surrounding this summer's investments. Apart from the purchase of a site for their new stadium, Southampton have also been busy in the transfer market. Glenn Hoddle, acting as caretaker while manager Dave Jones prepares for his November court case, has made three significant signings.

Uwe Rosler, once of Manchester City, joined from TB Berlin and will add much needed firepower to one of last season's weakest strike forces. Yesterday, only a goal was missing from the German's excellent performance. Another forward, 19-year-old Patrice Tano, who missed yesterday's match through injury, was so keen to play for Hoddle that he bought out his contract with French champions Monaco. But it was Hoddle's third addition who most caught the eye yesterday.

Marc Draper, a £1.5m buy from Aston Villa, looked impressive in the heart of midfield. Whether it be with a calming signal, an encouraging tap or a stern word, Draper orchestrated Southampton's play. He could become the general they have lacked in recent years. "Mark is a bright player who sees things early," said Hoddle, who brought Draper into the England squad three years ago when the 28-year-old was at the height of his powers.

The combination of Draper's clever positional play, accurate passing and willingness to track back to take the ball off his defenders, could rapidly make him invaluable to Southampton. In many ways, he epitomises the way Hoddle wants his teams to play. "I like Mark," said the former England coach. "He's intelligent. He doesn't give the ball away and he fights for it when he doesn't have it. He is a passer and a dribbler, but he is also a fighter. I like that in a player."

Yesterday, against Real Sociedad Hoddle's new-look Southampton showed promise when going forward, notably Marian Pahars who scored the equaliser. But they were often vulnerable in defence. The goals they conceded - a free-kick in the first minute from Inigo Igiakez and a Francesco De Pedro penalty - were sloppy and their back-line was repeatedly exposed.

Hoddle disagreed: "We were caught out a few times, but that was more because we were chasing the game than anything else." Predictably, he added that friendlies did not reflect a team's season prospects.

Perhaps so, but Hoddle knows that Southampton will have to play considerably better at home to Derby County next Saturday. Otherwise, they could soon find themselves, as he might say, in one of them tricky situations.

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