Southampton's manager, Harry Redknapp, has made no secret of the fact that he intends to buy in January's transfer window; the question has been to what extent. The answer, on the evidence of this game, should be half a team. It is just which half that is debatable.
On a ground where the home team would have trouble winning a one-horse race, Southampton slumped to their third defeat in the five matches since he took charge, and have now secured just one victory in their last 19 Premiership matches. That is relegation form and, unless he spends wisely, Redknapp's 25-mile journey along the South Coast is going to force a change in divisions as well as loyalties.
Southampton's first-half performance was so poor you wondered whether the £6.5m they are expected to receive for James Beattie would have to be trebled to provide significant improvement. They rallied after the interval, but Manchester City had already secured the points thanks to goals from Paul Bosvelt and the excellent Shaun Wright-Phillips.
"I knew it was a big ask to keep Southampton up when I came to the club," Redknapp said, "but it's even bigger than I thought it was. We need to bring in five players; on loan, free transfers, wherever we can find them. But we have to stay up."
On a day of teeming rain Redknapp's lumbering team - "We desperately need some pace" - were run to distraction by Wright-Phillips, whose low centre of gravity gave him an advantage that he exploited with a goal of such skill and power that the only thing that looked more unstoppable was his soaring worth. City place his value at around £25m; yesterday's goal will add a few pounds more. "He is our most important player," Kevin Keegan, the City manager, said. "It used to be others, but now it's him."
With the pitch getting more slippy by the minute, it was soon apparent Wright-Phillips's skills would set him apart, and it was the England winger's ability to wrong-foot defenders that led to City's opener after 19 minutes. He won a corner, Robbie Fowler took it, Richard Dunne knocked it back from the far post and Bosvelt headed in from five yards.
The Southampton defence melted again after 33 minutes when Wright-Phillips, who had earlier tested Antti Niemi with a fierce shot, crossed from the right and Fowler headed powerfully past the goalkeeper. The visitors were fortunate that Danny Higginbotham had raced behind his goalkeeper to block on the line.
David James saved at Neil McCann's feet two minutes later, but that was a temporary aberration in the flow, and Wright-Phillips put City 2-0 ahead with a glorious goal five minutes before half-time. The England winger turned exquisitely to elude David Prutton, cut inside another tentative challenge and then hammer a low shot past Niemi from 30 yards.
Southampton had a valid goal disallowed for offside after 58 minutes and James made an excellent save from substitute Peter Crouch with 12 minutes to go, but Southampton had to wait until the final seconds before they got any reward. Crouch was brought down by Sylvain Distin and Phillips hit the penalty into the roof of the net. It was some consolation, but not much. It is going to be a hard five months for Redknapp no matter whom he buys over the next four weeks.
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