Hall on the mark

Southampton 2 Shipperley 64, Hall 71 Middlesbrough 1 Barmby 44 Attendance: 15,151
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The Independent Online
POOR defending may send managers into fits of despair but it still has the capacity to bring joy to entire matches. It helped at the Dell yesterday, where a contest going nowhere in particular except the centre circle became almost buoyant, containing as it did three goals, as many wonderful saves and a sending-off.

Southampton, without a Premiership win in seven matches, came from behind to consign Middlesbrough to their fifth consecutive defeat. Those statistics suggested what the proceedings might have had in store - likely to be unadventurous unless misadventure intervened. Middlesbrough, without the searching runs of Juninho, out with a knee strain, took the lead, having been content to contain the opposition for most of the first half.

Paul Wilkinson, starting his first Premiership match for 11 months, exchanged passes in the area with Nick Barmby who drifted to his right and suddenly found himself in an uncommon amount of space to beat Dave Beasant to the goalkeeper's right.

Surely Middlesbrough, who until Christmas had the least generous defence in the Premiership, would sit back and absorb the pressure. As it happened, they were fortunate not to be pulled back to equality immediately. Neil Shipperley's header at the far post was powerful, accurate and bounced awkwardly, but Gary Walsh flung himself low to his left and pushed the ball round the post. It was a breathtaking save - the first and best of the goalkeeper's marvellous exhibition of reflexes - but it was not to bring him due reward.

In the 65th minute, Gordon Watson, just on as a substitute, slipped in a deft cross after Middlesbrough failed to clear a corner properly. Shipperley was swiftly on the receiving end of it. Eight minutes later, Southampton were ahead. Significantly, it was also nine minutes after Middlesbrough had lost Phil Whelan, sent off for his second booking. Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, was unhappy about this later, not because he disagreed with the referee, but because he felt Whelan should have got on with the game instead of committing the retaliatory offence that led to the first booking. The defender can hardly have reached the dressing room by the time Dodd's cross was palmed away by Walsh, only for Richard Hall to be left with the simple task of heading his first goal of the season.