Lowe hints at early change as Kenna speeds Saints' slide

Birmingham City 2 Southampton 1
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The Independent Football

Rupert Lowe, the Southampton chairman, admitted last night that manager Gordon Strachan may leave the club before the end of the season if his decision to take a break from football has a negative effect on results.

Strachan announced on Friday that he would not be seeking a renewal of his contract when it expires in the summer and revealed yesterday that his decision to take a break from football had been made "two and a half years ago" and had nothing to do with his health, mental or physical.

Lowe confused matters at a press conference following Southampton's defeat at St Andrews by stressing that Strachan's need for a hip replacement was a significant part of the decision, even though Strachan himself subsequently denied that. But quizzed on whether he would honour Strachan's desire to see out his contract, Lowe said that results would be the yardstick irrespective of Friday's announcement.

"At the moment the club is in good shape but if results in the future do not go the way we would like then Gordon's position would be subject to review as it would in any other circumstance," Lowe said.

In a separate press conference, Strachan expressed surprise at Lowe's comment that he had known about the decision to quit "only in the last week", explaining that he had made his plans known "at the end of October" and insisted his hip was not a factor.

"I have a small problem with my hip but when I decided on my plans two and a half years ago both my hips were in full working order," he said. "Health reasons have nothing to do with it. I have been working 31 years without a break, my wife and I are grandparents now and I'm going to spend some time away from the game.

"I do plan to come back into football, although I do not know in what capacity." Strachan's touchline performance was as animated as ever but his side could not produce the victory that might have diluted the suspicion that his impending departure could send their season into decline.

They are without a win and have scored one goal in five games and although they began as if unfazed, taking an early lead, Birmingham equalised quickly and were thereafter the better side. Only two top-class saves by the Southampton goalkeeper, Antti Niemi, prevented a higher losing margin.

Southampton gained a sixth-minute advantage when Rory Delap's shot was parried by Maik Taylor only for Brett Ormerod to reach the rebound and score. But, with Birmingham manager Steve Bruce's temperament on trial after Wednesday's 4-1 defeat at Tottenham, an equaliser was not long in coming. Three goals down inside 39 minutes at White Hart Lane, this time they were level after 16.

A right-wing corner by Bryan Hughes was met by Stephen Clemence with a header from distance. It looked like a routine save for Niemi but as Mikael Forsell and several defenders jumped in front of him the ball found a way into the net, defender Fitz Hall appearing to get the final touch.

Niemi produced the first of his memorable saves to tip a rising 30-yard drive by Clinton Morrison wide of his left-hand post. And Southampton had the Finn to thank for keeping them in the game again on the hour when he acrobatically tipped David Dunn's curling free-kick over the bar.

Birmingham deservedly went ahead after 67 minutes with a goal that allowed Jeff Kenna to celebrate the defeat of his former club. Kenna released Morrison with a pass into the penalty area and continued his run to receive the return and score from close range.

Moments later, Kenna was on the floor and Southampton were down to 10 men as David Prutton received an instant red card for a reckless challenge on the Birmingham goalscorer that left Kenna needing stitches in a head wound.

Birmingham City 2
Clemence 16, Kenna 67

Southampton 1
Ormerod 6

Half-time 1-1 Attendance: 29,071