Redknapp weighs up survival chances as United's visit looms

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The Independent Online

To avoid even the slightest whiff of collusion, Harry Redknapp and Jim Smith should probably forgo the traditional post-match bottle of wine with their old horse-racing chum Sir Alex Ferguson when Manchester United come to Southampton for the last Premiership game of the season.

To avoid even the slightest whiff of collusion, Harry Redknapp and Jim Smith should probably forgo the traditional post-match bottle of wine with their old horse-racing chum Sir Alex Ferguson when Manchester United come to Southampton for the last Premiership game of the season.

The 15 May fixture could also be the last game in the top flight after 27 years for Redknapp and Smith's Saints, who lost 4-0 to United at St Mary's in the FA Cup quarter-finals last month.

Before his defence collapsed against Aston Villa in the second half last Saturday, Redknapp was predicting 10 points were needed to escape the dreaded drop. Three of them might have to come from United less than a week before the FA Cup final. United may need something themselves, in order to clinch second place and avoid Champions' League qualifying matches next season. So Redknapp is likely to have to make do with fewer than 10 points from his remaining four games which include, on Sunday, a visit to his former club Portsmouth.

"I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but it is only a football match and that's all it should be about," Redknapp said. The former Bournemouth and West Ham manager leftPompey in November, when he felt his job was under threat, and joined Southampton, 20 or so miles along the coast and roundly detested by all in blue, little more than two weeks later.

Redknapp has had some vicious messages through the post from people calling themselves Pompey fans since then, particularly in the last few weeks.

But he and his assistant, Smith, coach Kevin Bond and midfielder Nigel Quashie - all ex-Fratton Park employees - do not see it as a matter of spurned love. All four will focus on this weekend and for the brief remainder of this tortuous campaign out of professionalism alone.

Saints were five injured players short of their best team in the Cup tie with United, and a brave point at Bolton on Tuesday showed there was no ill feeling among the Southampton squad after Redknapp's verbal battering of his back four following the Villa defeat. His words seemed to have shamed his side into a better performance.

It is always dangerous to hang the players out to dry in public without doing anything more positive on the pitch, so Redknapp went with five at the back at the Reebok Stadium, and a Kevin Phillips goal earned a draw.

While Saints should beat Norwich at St Mary's and may get a point at Crystal Palace and Portsmouth, it is hard to see West Bromwich Albion doing so well from their five remaining matches - at home to Arsenal, Blackburn and Portsmouth and away at Middlesbrough and United.

Norwich showed that United are far from unbeatable two weeks ago, but collapsed themselves to let 3-1 become 3-3 at Palace last Saturday. They could beat Charlton this Saturday but matches with Saints, Birmingham and Fulham look more demanding.

As for Palace, three away games in the last five do not offer much encouragement and they begin with Champions' League-chasing Liverpool at home on Saturday.

"It is three from four to go down," Redknapp said. "Has been for a while. Fulham, Blackburn and Pompey are out of it and we've just got to believe we can finish higher than West Brom, Palace and Norwich. Two of those we meet. So we've got to believe we have a great chance.

"But, as I knew when I arrived here, it is going to be tight and it is going to be tough. We've got a lot of quiet players in our squad and we can't seem to hold a lead. I played three centre-halves for a long spell when I was at Portsmouth and won a championship with it. So it's not just a defensive strategy and maybe it is the answer for us."

Redknapp has other cards up his sleeve. He has blocked an extension of the veteran Jason Dodd's loan to Plymouth Argyle and might have the 34-year-old in the squad at Pompey. Survival in the top-flight will keep Redknapp going, but he has said that relegation could see him walk away.

His Bolton counterpart Sam Allardyce could not hide his frustration after his side remained in fifth place in the table after the draw with Southampton.

"We scored a really good goal thanks to the bravery of Stelios [Giannakopoulos]," he said. "That should have settled us down to go on from there but we couldn't find the second before half time.

"Then came the turning point at the start of the second half. First [Gary] Speed headed straight at [Anti] Niemi and it dropped straight to [El Hadji] Diouf. He had the goal at his mercy and tried to side foot into the top of the net but instead he put it over the crossbar.

"We knew at some stage they would have a go at us and they did. We got a little worried and they got in the game. I thought we might just have weathered the storm.

"Then our defenders have allowed Phillips to run in and we got heavily punished. What you look for then is a great response and we got that, other than a goal.

"The amount of chances we created is the best since we came into the Premiership. If Kevin Davies' volley had gone in it would have been better than the first goal. It was a fantastic volley."

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