Southampton struggle to cast out 'dark forces'

Southampton 0 Leicester City 0
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The Independent Football

Gordon Strachan used his programme notes to remind Southampton fans that it was only four games ago that they were fourth in the League. "The world seemed bright and breezy," he wrote. "You could hear the birds singing at the training ground as we came to work in the morning. It seems much duller now. The dark forces have taken over."

Last night's point, which came from a scrappy, chance-light match, should in theory have done little to lift the gloom. Not losing at home to a side earmarked for relegation is hardly a sign of rude health. "At least it's a point," said Strachan, whose team conspired to a witless 3-0 home defeat to Newcastle in the FA Cup last Saturday on the back of two successive league losses. "But the performance wasn't anywhere near where I want to be."

Leicester City should be the happier by far this morning, their share of the spoils keeping them above a relegation zone which their hosts, on recent form, may yet encounter. But last night Micky Adams seemed far from happy. "I'm pleased with the point but not with the performance," the visiting manager said. "We've played a lot better than that and if we continue playing like that I'm going to be unhappy between now and the end of the season."

An evening of jollity it was not, although both managers at least quipped about the paucity of entertainment. "You deserve your money tonight," Strachan told the press. "Actually, for having to watch that, you deserve double." Adams was more succinct. "I'm glad I got in free," he said.

After the defeat by Newcastle, Strachan said he had not known such a depressing run of form in his two years at the club. Yet amid rumours of dressing-room dissent fomented by a few troublemakers - the midfielders Anders Svensson and Fabrice Fernandes reportedly to the fore - he made only one change last night, and that forced by an injury to Marian Pahars. Fernandes replaced the Latvian on the left wing, while Anders Svensson, who had a stinker in the Cup, kept his place in the centre.

They both toiled, Fernandes jinking down the left, Svensson probing in centre. but as Strachan said: "Although our build-up play was better, our final ball was truly, truly poor."

Southampton's best chance of the game came when David Prutton ran deep and crossed to an unmarked Kevin Phillips inside the six-yard box. The striker could not dig the ball out from under his feet and missed. The only other home threats came when Anders Svensson curled a shot wide after a corner and when James Beattie shot over. Fernandes slotted a shot wide across the face of the goal and saw another carried off course by a swirling wind through driving rain into the stands.

Leicester, who gave a debut to Nikos Dabizas alongside fellow forner Newcastle defender Steve Howey, came closest when a Muzzy Izzet free-kick required a kneeling punch by Antti Niemi to clear.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi 5; Dodd 4, Lundekvam 5 (Delap 5, 42), M Svensson 5, Higginbotham 5; Telfer 5, Prutton 6, A Svensson 6, Fernandes 7 (McCann, 77); Beattie 5, Phillips 5 (Delgado, 83). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Ormerod.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Walker 5; Impey 5, Howey 5, Dabizas 5, Thatcher 5; Scowcroft 5, Izzet 6, Davidson 4, Stewart 5; Bent 5, Ferdinand 6 (Dickov 5, 64). Substitutes not used: Coyne (gk), Heath, Hignett, McKinlay.

Referee: H Webb (Rotherham) 5.