Redknapp's recruits rising to challenge

Southampton 1 - Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Online

The key passage of play that hinted why Southampton might yet avoid relegation came in the dying minutes, when, with Saints nervously nursing a 1-0 lead, Peter Crouch broke free in the opposition half.

The key passage of play that hinted why Southampton might yet avoid relegation came in the dying minutes, when, with Saints nervously nursing a 1-0 lead, Peter Crouch broke free in the opposition half.

Last month, against Everton, with his side leading 2-1 in injury time, he had done the same, but on that occasion shot straight at the goalkeeper, allowing a rapid counter-attack and a deflating, sucker-punch equaliser that typified the "bad luck" of the season.

On Saturday, Crouch showed why good luck tends to come to those who work hard and think canny. He ran to the corner, protecting the ball. A cacophonous cheer went up, not because the final whistle blew - that took a couple more minutes - but because the home fans, to the last man, woman and child, were screeching acknowledgement of an evolving, match-winning mentality. Simple, perhaps, but vital.

Southampton have now lost just once in nine games. Win or lose in their FA Cup quarter-final at home to Manchester United next weekend, Harry Redknapp knows his transfer-window dealings are transforming his side.

Before Christmas, he had privately decided Saints had "not a prayer" of avoiding the drop, and that he had maybe made a "blooper" in switching from Portsmouth to St Mary's.

But then he recruited his son, Jamie, a steady influence on and off the pitch, from Tottenham. He raided Fratton Park for Nigel Quashie, Saturday's match-winner with a header, to add grit in midfield. He added options on the left by hiring Olivier Bernard from Newcastle. He introduced pace, and the ability to unsettle opponents, in Henri Camara. And by selling James Beattie to Everton, he has allowed Crouch to flourish. His acquisitions were all influential in beating Spurs.

Even some bad luck, in the form of an injury to goalkeeper Antti Niemi, has turned good, with the emergence of the Finn's deputy, Paul Smith.

The stand-in was superb again, producing seven fine saves from a Tottenham strike force variously comprised of Mido, Jermain Defoe, Frédéric Kanouté and Robbie Keane, the last three all playing together at the end.

If one statistic indicates why Spurs might struggle to finish in the European places, it is that their 13 shots came to nothing. Only Norwich have scored fewer than Tottenham's eight on their travels.

"Southampton were fighting for their lives," Tottenham's manager, Martin Jol, said.

Fight will be pivotal to both sides' seasons.

Goal: Quashie (51) 1-0.

Southampton (4-4-2): Smith; Delap (Nilsson, 49), Lundekvam, Higginbotham, Bernard; Telfer, Redknapp, Quashie, Le Saux (Svensson, 87); Camara, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Blayney (gk), Cranie, Phillips.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Kelly (Ziegler, 67), Gardner, King, Edman; Davies, Brown, Carrick, Reid (Keane, 74); Defoe, Mido (Kanouté, 56). Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Pamarot.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Southampton Quashie; Tottenham Edman, Brown.

Man of the match: Smith.

Attendance: 31,903.

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