Prutton brings relief for Redknapp

Southampton 2 - Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

At 12.49pm Southampton's season finally started. A goal by David Prutton, the game's outstanding player in an outstanding performance, sent such a shot of belief coursing through their veins that it sustained them through a first League victory under Harry Redknapp and their second in 22 Premiership matches. If they play only half as well as this for the rest of the campaign then the threat of relegation will be defeated as emphatically as a thoroughly abject Liverpool.

At 12.49pm Southampton's season finally started. A goal by David Prutton, the game's outstanding player in an outstanding performance, sent such a shot of belief coursing through their veins that it sustained them through a first League victory under Harry Redknapp and their second in 22 Premiership matches. If they play only half as well as this for the rest of the campaign then the threat of relegation will be defeated as emphatically as a thoroughly abject Liverpool.

Prutton was not alone. When Peter Crouch scored the second on 22 minutes he came of age. The beanpole can help Southampton climb. Jamie Redknapp, playing against his old team, was the pedigree player he can be and his father's field lieutenant. At the end he was last off, his face wreathed in smiles, and embraced his father. This South Coast soap opera took another emotional roller-coaster. And the Southampton fans, rightly, loved it. They also stood and applauded when Anders Svensson was substituted. The Swede had harried and hurried like never before and even he looked stunned. Alongside him Rory Delap had run and run and run some more. Stirring stuff.

"Today we turned the corner. It's a big result for us," said Harry Redknapp afterwards. It has been a draining few weeks. Had he not won here it would have been eight, under him, without a victory but his team brushed off the pre-match blow of new £2.1m signing Nigel Quashie damaging knee ligaments. "You start to think maybe it's not going your way," said Redknapp. How wrong he was.

Liverpool, by contrast, were shocking. A third defeat, and no goals, in eight days. At this alarming rate the Rafa-lution will suffer its own insurrection. The FA Cup débâcle at Burnley led to the first pangs of disquiet, and they will only have grown more acute after yesterday. Suddenly Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final at Watford has become even more vital, while qualifying for next season's Champions League may soon only be achieved by winning it. Added to that were disturbing performances from big-name signings. Fernando Morientes was anonymous, apart from one second-half run and shot, while Mauricio Pellegrino was simply appalling. The Argentinian did not even look motivated. It was all the more bewildering because, to accommodate him, Jamie Carragher was pushed to right-back from where he struggled and was culpable in Southampton's second goal.

Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, could not have been more peripheral if he had sat in the stands. His mitigation was the groin injury that had made his appearance a doubt although manager Rafael Benitez admitted he had played his captain through necessity. "He was not really fit but he is a key player for us," Benitez said. True, Gerrard clipped the crossbar in the second half with a fierce drive but, before that, he had displayed a hang-dog body language and squandered possession. Alongside him Dietmar Hamann was even poorer which must have made the supremacy Southampton had in midfield - where they deployed five players - all the more delicious for both Redknapps.

They got the ideal start. Five minutes in and Pellegrino dallied, Prutton charged in and the ball cannoned to Crouch who deftly played the midfielder into space. Prutton surged on and just as it appeared he had taken too long, and been forced too wide, he squeezed the ball under Jerzy Dudek. Seventeen minutes later the roles reversed. After fine build-up from Redknapp, and more woeful defending, Prutton broke down the right and crossed for Crouch to snap in a header.

"If you play away and concede two goals so early it is very difficult after that," Benitez reasoned. He was right, especially as Southampton's formation suffocated his side. But, more than that, Liverpool struggled. Delap, clear, chipped the ball into Dudek's arms, instead of to the unattended Crouch while Prutton was wrongly pulled up for offside when through. Liverpool did not threaten until after the break. Substitute Florent Sinama Pongolle added impetus, Milan Baros took up the fight but shots from him and Gerrard were executed in a panic and steered wide. Pongolle's flying header narrowly cleared a post but, at the other end, Dudek had to save smartly from Prutton.

"The one thing I can say is that we will try again and will work even harder," said Benitez afterwards. And that should include showing his players a video of this match. And the effort shown by their reawakened opponents.

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