Magilton displays saintly virtues

Southampton 1 Magilton 65 Newcastle United 0 Attendance:15,237
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The Independent Online
THE only 100 per cent record in the Premiership - and in the Football League, too - came to an end in the unexpected setting of The Dell yesterday. Newcastle were undone first by precedent, for it is 23 years since they won at the ground, but more pertinently by Matthew Le Tissier. The Channel Islander was not perpetually involved in the game but what he did he did sublimely and set up the match's only goal. His sweet form at times seemed to be screaming: "Pick me for England." Or Scotland, or Wales, or Northern Ireland, or France for that matter. Le Tissier deserves a bigger stage.

There was a scintillating beginning to the match, which might have been expected of Newcastle, but Southampton were equal partners in the enterprise. It took a mere 50 seconds for Ruel Fox, playing his first game of the season, to be offered a shooting chance. The effort lacked both pace and direction and it was tempting to wonder what Peter Beardsley, whose injured knee had given Fox his place, might have made of it.

Barely three minutes later, a delicate cross by Le Tissier following a short corner might have been met with more conviction by Richard Hall. It was, as ever, impossible not to pay attention to Le Tissier just in case he exhibited some frailty in his game which nobody but the England coach has so far spotted. His name, when it was announced before the start, had brought comfortably the loudest cheers. He was not, as it happens, directly involved in the ninth-minute move which could easily have given his side the lead. Jim Magilton's through ball to the right-hand side of the penalty area found Neil Shipperley a stride ahead of the defence with ball at feet and bearing down on goal. In these circumstances strikers prefer to find the target. Shipperley did not.

Within a minute, Les Ferdinand's looping header and Keith Gillespie's shot after working his way into the penalty area brought saves from Dave Beasant. Only seconds after that Le Tissier's header from near the penalty spot ought to have been more conclusive after a splendid cross from Frankie Bennett.

If Le Tissier is finding it difficult to catch the eye of Terry Venables, David Ginola is experiencing similar difficulties with the boss in France. The other similarity is that it is difficult to know why. Ginola loped with the elegance which has already become customary down the left flank, at times shielding the ball, at others finding precisely the right touch to take it past his man. His crossing, too, is unflustered and on at least one occasion Ferdinand and Fox might have made something more of a ball which came at good pace and accuracy into the area.

As the half wore on, Newcastle's ideas tended to wear out somewhat. Not that the entertainment was at all being eroded, for Le Tissier was always likely to juggle, turn and caress.

His ability to take the breath away was again evident 14 minutes into the second half when he provided a cross from the right flank some 25 yards from goal. It swerved away from the Newcastle goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop, who did not know whether to try to catch the ball or stay on his line, and Darren Peacock headed the ball away.

There was no such escape for the Premiership leaders in the 65th minute when Le Tissier's supremely judged short pass from the left of the area into the path of a composed Magilton gave the Saints the lead.

Inevitably Newcastle had something left and Ferdinand on another day might have made more use of Gillespie's increasingly productive work on the right. But Southampton, too, could have had another goal, a speculative shot from the substitute David Hughes almost catching Hislop off his line.