The half-time announcement that Portsmouth were trailing by four goals to Arsenal brought with it one of the biggest cheers of the evening from Southampton's supporters, save the rapturous welcome handed to George Burley as he walked out for his first game at home as the manager of Southampton.
The post-Harry Redknapp era began in earnest at the St Mary's Stadium last night, and though the new manager Burley did not gain the result he would have wanted after watching his side lose out to Sheffield United, there was a sense of optimism among the crowd that Southampton could leave behind a troubled year.
"The crowd were tremendous, and of course you want to get it right for them," said Burley, who was appointed at the start of the festive period following Redknapp's defection to Southampton's close rivals.
"Of course it is going to take time but they can see that there are a lot of good young players for the future. Hopefully we can start getting it right sooner rather than later, and push ourselves up the league." Burley's first game, against Watford on Monday, was a disappointing affair and he could only watch as his new charges were dealt a harsh lesson, losing by three goals. But this display showed much more promise.
Indeed, Southampton's early play was brimming with endeavour, their passing crisp and at times the movement off the ball, coupled with intelligence on it, was pleasing on the eye. Kenwyne Jones should have done better seven minutes in following a cross from the winger Nathan Dyer, but the lanky striker failed to control the ball adequately after a fine first touch had created space in the penalty area.
In contrast, Sheffield United's players, though wearing garish fluorescent orange jerseys, were looking lost. A three-man front line, consisting of Steve Kabba, Danny Webber and Neil Shipperley, was lacking supply from the trio of midfield players.
The Southampton midfielder Rory Delap came close after a goalmouth scramble on 31 minutes, and Burley was looking the more content figure on the sideline, with his counterpart Warnock clearly agitated.
However, Southampton's hard work was unravelled on 55 minutes. A lazy pass from the left-back Martin Cranie was intercepted by Webber, whose clever ball into the path of Shipperley found the striker in behind the home defence. He comfortably stroked the ball through Paul Smith's legs.
Burley had left the teenage sensation Theo Walcott on the substitutes' bench, but his introduction with two-thirds of the game gone came too late for the 16-year-old to really make an impact on a game that was fast slipping away from the home team.
The crowd were urging their side forward, but in the end Sheffield United let their superiority show. Warnock said: "I thought the occasion, George [Burley's] first game here, saw us give them too much respect. I did think if we could get to half-time level, we could win it and I was pleased with the result."
Southampton (4-4-2) : Smith; Baird, Mills, Powell (Hajto, 62), Cranie; Dyer, Quashie, Belmadi (Blackstock, 73), Delap; Jones, Ormerod (Walcott, 62). Substitutes not used: McCann, Prutton.
Sheffield United (4-3-3) : Kenny; Morgan, Bromby, Unsworth, Geary (Kozluk, 90); Jagielka, Montgomery, Armstrong; Webber (Tonge, 90), Shipperley, Kabba. Substitutes not used: Ifill, Nalis, Shaw.
Referee: P Crossley (Kent).Reuse content