Van Nistelrooy sinks Saints as Redknapp runs out of luck

Southampton 1 - Manchester United 2
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the end not even Harry Redknapp, that old grandmaster of the relegation battle, could plot Southampton a way out of trouble and although they were granted 60 sweet minutes of hope yesterday, that was all St Mary's were given as a parting gift after 27 years in top-flight football. The fight is over and now the real problems of life outside the Premiership can begin.

In the end not even Harry Redknapp, that old grandmaster of the relegation battle, could plot Southampton a way out of trouble and although they were granted 60 sweet minutes of hope yesterday, that was all St Mary's were given as a parting gift after 27 years in top-flight football. The fight is over and now the real problems of life outside the Premiership can begin.

As the curtain fell on their Premiership lives, and Southampton bid farewell to life among the ruling classes of English football, the home supporters called upon their chairman, Rupert Lowe, to resign. Redknapp waved up to the stands before later admitting that this could be the end for him after more than 20 years of management. And out on the pitch, two great names of English football - Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Le Saux - played what might well be the last match of their careers.

It was an unhappy end to a desperate season. Southampton finished their last Premiership campaign of the season right at the bottom and it will be a long, hard road back from the Championship. When John O'Shea turned the ball into his own net after 10 minutes, and the news of goals against Norwich rippled round the ground, there was hope, but a team with a defence as muddled and uncertain as Southampton's will always have great cause for concern.

Eventually it was goals from Darren Fletcher and Ruud van Nistelrooy that ended Southampton's season, mere footnotes in the careers of the players themselves but two of the most expensive the home club will ever concede.

The cost of relegation is placed at a conservative £20m and Harry Redknapp could not guarantee that the club will be in the right financial shape to make a prompt return to the Premiership.

The Southampton manager said his assistant, Jim Smith, had told him that he had never seen anyone laid so low by relegation, but he managed to maintain a sense of perspective none the less. He talked about a club that had too many players on its book - "I don't know where they come from" - but none that were up to the standards that he expected and he admitted that Southampton had far too many managers - eight in seven years - to be successful consistently.

These were two clubs who both have great cause for concern for their futures but it was an insecurity that served to divide them rather than unite. Malcolm Glazer, United's new owner in waiting, will be glad to know that his name was sung at St Mary's yesterday, although he will be less delighted to know that it was the home fans who chanted it. United responded by counting down the seconds of Southampton's expiring Premiership life.

For 63 minutes they could dream. There was a moment of confusion in the United area when Le Saux's corner skimmed off Brett Ormerod's head at the near post and eluded Roy Carroll. At the back post, O'Shea lunged at the ball to try to prise it away from Nigel Quashie but only managed to apply the final touch that turned it into the net.

There was elation and the chance of life but when Fletcher headed home the equaliser on 19 minutes, he did so without any hindrance from the Southampton defence. The midfielder drifted free on the edge of the box and timed his run on to O'Shea's cross to intervene with the ball's flight before Danny Higginbotham - who had opted just to wait for it - could connect for the clearance.

There were chances for Southampton, David Prutton went round Carroll and Wes Brown had to steer his cross off the line. Then after the hour, Henri Camara brought down a long clearance and slipped the ball into Brett Ormerod whose shot was well touched over by Carroll. That moment felt crucial because minutes earlier, Geoff Horsfield had given West Bromwich Albion a lead that took the momentum away from Southampton. And then, on 63 minutes, they had it removed for good.

It was an innocuous goal to end 27 years among the élite of English football. Ryan Giggs went wide of Olivier Bernard and cut the ball back to Alan Smith whose deep cross to the back post was headed neatly home by Van Nistelrooy. As he came out to warm down, Roy Keane responded to some abuse from the stand with a thumb pointed downwards. He was asked to leave shortly afterwards but the gesture could hardly have been more poignant.

Goals: O'Shea og (10) 1-0; Fletcher (19) 1-1; Van Nistelrooy (63) 2-1.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi; Telfer, Lundekvam, Higginbotham, Bernard (Davenport, 78); Prutton (Phillips, 71), Redknapp, Quashie, Le Saux (Delap, 71); Camara, Ormerod. Substitutes not used: P Smith (gk), Oakley.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Carroll; Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Rooney (Saha, 74), Fletcher, Fortune, Giggs; A Smith; Van Nistelrooy (P Neville, 88). Substitutes not used: Ricardo (gk), Keane, Kleberson.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Southampton Lundekvam; Manchester United Brown, Silvestre.

Man of the match: A Smith.

Attendance: 32, 066.

Comments