Le Tissier's double-edged sword

Southampton 4 Oakley 28, Le Tissier 28,48, Watson 82 Middlesbrough 0 Attendance: 15,230
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The Independent Online
Who needs expensive foreign imports after all? Southampton's week may have begun with the collapse of the proposed purchase of the Portuguese international Paolo Alves, but this emphatic first win of the season was delivered by a largely home-spun squad. And though Matthew Le Tissier's two goals will inevitably create most discussion, it was the opening score by the former trainee Matthew Oakley which gave Southampton the confidence to take this game to Middlesbrough.

This they certainly did, fully deserving their two-goal interval lead that was quickly extended in the second half by Le Tissier's controversial second strike which, in effect, put a stop to any notions Middlesbrough had of a comeback.

In truth, they already looked well beaten at half-time, their listless attitude compounded by several defensive mistakes, a pattern which continued throughout, culminating in Derek Whyte gifting a fourth goal to Gordon Watson and Fabrizio Ravanelli missing a late penalty.

Southampton, in contrast, facing the prospect of eight games without a win, knuckled down from the start, and it was the consistent pressure that their midfield and attack applied to Middlesbrough's expensive parts which saw the wheels come off in a big way. Watson harassed Phil Whelan into a booking and an eventual substitution while Neil Shipperley always seemed to have the physical edge over Steve Vickers.

In midfield, Le Tissier was as much in the game as Nick Barmby was out of it, which may give the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, food for thought. Barmby's frustration ended with a shot against the angle in injury time, and he then led the complaints to the referee about the competence of one of his assistants.

When they have cooled down, however, the Teessiders will realise that they were out-battled rather than robbed, the first goal being a microcosm of the whole game. Watson tricked his way past Vickers, and though Jim Magilton's shot was blocked by Alan Miller, Oakley pounced to turn the ball home.

Southampton's early supremacy was confirmed just before the half-hour when Le Tissier's in-swinging corner was missed by everybody at the near post and flew in over the bar. "We just didn't compete in that first half- hour," said Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager. "Southampton won all the first balls and the second ones too."

Le Tissier had already signalled it was an "on day" for him with a superb half-volley from Simon Charlton's throw that Miller did well to save. But his second goal, on 48 minutes, seemed to take place in slow motion. Middlesbrough cleared a corner to Charlton, whose cross found their entire defence static as Le Tissier ghosted in to control and tap home. "I thought it was well offside," Robson lamented after the game.

Certainly the game's narrative thereafter was simply how many more goals Southampton could score. They added just the one, which Whyte donated by getting himself caught in possession by Watson, who had time to drive his shot into the far corner.

Middlesbrough's last chances for a consolation ended with Ravanelli side- footing his penalty wide, and Barmby watching his shot on the run rebound on the angle straight back into Neil Moss's arms.

"We enjoyed a wee bit of luck today," Graeme Souness, the Southampton manager, said afterwards. "But so far this season we haven't got the points we've deserved." With that, he was off, promising "three new faces" before the Premiership resumes - his squad would probably say that he doesn't need them.