Exit Cole after 14-man fracas

Southampton 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Allowing a match to be sponsored by a company called "Bed E Buys" is tempting fate at the best of times. But when Southampton had gone 398 minutes without scoring? That was asking for it, even if Blackburn Rovers were the only Premiership side without, excuse the pun, a clean sheet.

But, after sleep-walking for almost an hour, this game woke up with a thumping free-kick and a few thumps being exchanged ending in Andy Cole's sending -off after an extraordinary mêlée involving 14 players. Somehow his sparring partner Michael Svensson escaped censure.

At the final whistle there was round two. Blackburn manager Graeme Souness clashed with Gordon Strachan's assistant Dennis Rofe in the tunnel. "I don't take kindly to members of staff from the opposition trying to get my players sent off. He was encouraging the referee," Souness said. The exchange was apparently caught on camera. "I must be guilty as charged then," Souness added.

Strachan intervened in an attempt to keep the peace, but refused to elaborate. "What goes on in there [the tunnel] is entirely between us," he said. "It is like when you have two mates arguing with each other in the pub, you try to stand in the way." Souness and Rolf are no mates, however - the former having sacked the latter when he was in charge of Southampton.

It all overshadowed an exuberant intervention by 19-year-old striker Leandre Griffit who scored what Strachan described as his side's best goal of the season. It was Griffit's first touch in League football after coming on as a substitute. "Beautiful," said Strachan after the debutant picked up Beattie's through ball and rolled his shot calmly past Brad Friedel to finish off Blackburn.

Beattie's earlier goal was no less superb - a free-kick from 25 yards into the right-hand corner after he had been wrestled to the ground by Andy Todd. "That was brave," said Strachan. It was also out of keeping with a dire first-half.

"We are a team who are not playing with a whole lot of confidence," said Souness after this fourth consecutive defeat. A nil-nil draw, he said, would have been "a good result for us". Strachan concurred about the quality. "I was wondering what had happened to football in the 21st century."

A weak header by the lumbering Jo Tessem and another free-kick by Beattie and that was it for the first 45 minutes. "Someone said it was forgettable," Strachan said. "But how could you forget that!" Blackburn offered even less, their five-man midfield was dysfunctional, but after the break a drive by David Thompson was saved while Tugay shot over.

It was warming up. A free header by Beattie flew wide after persistence by Neil McCann, but the England striker quickly made amends with his free-kick. Moments later and the contest exploded for a different reason with Cole's dismissal.

There was a tangle of bodies - Steven Reid, McCann, Anders Svensson and the disappointing Barry Ferguson - before the Scottish midfielder was pushed in the back and the fists started.

Fourteen players were involved. Cole took on allcomers. Referee Steve Bennett waved one card and it was red. Cole trudged off and Souness stood in disbelief, pointing an accusing finger at Michael Svensson.

"The first goal damaged us. The sending-off killed us," he said. His team chased, but in vain. The chances fell to Southampton. Strachan was taking the Fifth. "I'm doing an Arsène Wenger here," he said of the sending-off. "I did not see it. But I saw the beautiful goals." Pity they won't get the headlines.

Southampton 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
Beattie 59, Griffit 87

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 31,620