Le Tissier still in Premiership galaxy

Bolton Wanderers 0 Southampton 1
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The Independent Online
Matthew Le Tissier must have wondered, on reading in the programme that "Terry Venables is one of his biggest fans", whether he had strayed into a parallel universe. There is indeed another planet, populated by lesser beings, which Le Tissier is anxious to avoid. It is called the Endsleigh League.

Earlier this season, around the time the Channel Islander stated his unwillingness to play below Premiership level, his contribution was not calculated to maintain Southampton's 18-year tenure. But as the distant galaxies of Grimsby and Tranmere loomed into view, Le Tissier has resumed the service to which his adoring public are accustomed.

The goal that means Southampton would avoid relegation by beating Wimbledon at home next Sunday - and which sent Bolton down after one season - was opportunist rather than opulent. But as Le Tissier's third in five games, and his first away from home in the League, his crisp conversion of Jimmy Phillips' primary-school back-pass could hardly have been more timely.

What a mercurial year it has been. After amassing 29 goals last season, Le Tissier began the new campaign with a hat-trick and still finished on the losing side. He was then repeatedly left out of the England squad, prompting speculation that he might be adopted by Scotland or Wales.

Confidence and form were lost, and weight evidently gained. Le Tissier disputed the latter suggestion on a radio phone-in, though there were moments against Bolton when it looked as if Geoff Hurst's missing ball might be up his shirt. A heavy-handed caution for dissent also kept his total of bookings bizarrely ahead of his goals (13 against 10, including one sending-off), yet it was a positive figure who breezed out of Burnden Park.

In theory, the Wimbledon game could be his last for Southampton. Would it decide his future? "Yes," he replied, though before anyone could work out whether he was threatening or promising, he added: "Because we'll get the win we need to stay up."

Le Tissier's renewed self-belief probably cost his team a second goal as he tried to score from an awkward angle with Neil Shipperley unmarked. The miss would have been costly had Bolton not spurned a succession of chances, the best of which saw the indomitable Ken Monkou clear off the line from Fabian De Freitas.

The Bolton manager, Colin Todd, criticised his team for letting down the fans. Realistically, their chance of staying up was in the realms of maths and miracles. It was interesting, however, to hear him nominate Sheffield Wednesday for the drop, because they lack the momentum of their three companions in distress. As one player put it: "They've had the cigars out since Christmas."

If Bolton want to come out smoking in August, Todd must persuade their few players of Premiership class, notably Sasa Curcic and Scott Sellars, to stay. And the pounds 3.5m Arsenal seem intent on paying for Alan Stubbs has to be invested with particular care.

Southampton would expect to bank twice as much if Le Tissier left, but Dave Merrington, their manager, is confident it will not come to that. "We've got a home game and you can't ask for anything more," he said. "What we need is another performance like when we beat Manchester United."

Before Saturday, Wimbledon were Southampton's only away victims. With the most revered Saint of all intent on polishing his halo rather than saying his goodbyes - after all, as the Bolton programme informed us, Le Tissier has the European Championships to prepare for - a second double and survival should be within their capabilities.

Goal: Le Tissier (26) 0-1.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-1-1): Ward; Bergsson, Fairclough (Lee, 69), Coleman, Phillips; McGinlay, Stubbs, Sellars, Thompson; Curcic; De Freitas (Paatelainen, 74). Substitute not used: Green.

Southampton (4-3-1-2): Beasant; Dodd, Hall, Monkou, Benali; Magilton, Widdrington, Maddison (Tisdale, 63); Le Tissier; Shipperley, Watson. Substitutes not used: Warren, Grobbelaar (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Bookings: Bolton: Sellars, Coleman. Southampton: Le Tissier, Benali.

Man of the match: Monkou.

Attendance: 18,795.

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