Saint Le Tissier at beatific best

Southampton 4 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Online
Maybe it was the sight of the Brazilians that did it or just the simple faith shown in him by soul-mate Glenn Hoddle, who had again picked him for an England squad. Whatever the reason, Matthew Le Tissier shook off his lethargy on Saturday to reclaim his position as arguably the most accomplished footballer in the land, and unquestionably the most infuriating.

Such rationing of genius is becoming tiresome, almost as tiresome as watching this outrageous talent twiddling his thumbs on the fringes of the national team. Hoddle should either play him against Poland next week or forget him. Doubtless the England coach would see the latter course of action as tantamount to failure if not an indictment of his own unfulfilled international playing career, with which Le Tissier's has run almost parallel.

The vexed question of how to extract the maximum from Le Tissier has confounded successive Southampton and England managers, but hope springs eternal that between them the new boys - Graeme Souness and Hoddle - might come up with the answer. Souness intends to "sicken" Le Tissier with the sight of the ball in order to cure his occasional languor.

"I want him waking up in the middle of the night dreaming of size-five Mitre balls coming towards him," he said. "There's not going to be a single player at England training next week with more ability than him, and that's not a Southampton manager sounding off about his own player. Every manager would agree with that sentiment. I've played with some great players, worked with some great players and in terms of sheer ability he's top of the list."

Of course not all teams, certainly not international ones of repute, would afford Le Tissier the sort of space which Middlesbrough permitted him, notwithstanding his first goal, of course, which he audaciously scored direct from a corner. Such was his mood that even when Middlesbrough did take closer order, as young Phil Stamp did once in the first half, Le Tissier was gloriously contemptuous of the challenge, turning the player inside out before finally nutmegging him.

Middlesbrough, however, were their own worse enemy. Their defending was inept, a clear case of lack of quality rather than quantity given that they started with five at the back. Unless Bryan Robson quickly addresses the problem, they can forget about European qualification, never mind the championship. Fabrizio Ravanelli and company were never playing well enough to carry the threat away from their suspect defence and the Italian striker even ended up missing a penalty.

As for Southampton, they may prove a lot of sceptics wrong this season, and in so doing help repair Souness' reputation which has taken something of a mauling since his days of unbridled success at Rangers. Getting the best out of Le Tissier may yet represent his greatest challenge.

Goals: Oakley (11) 1-0; Le Tissier (29) 2-0; Le Tissier (48) 3- 0; Watson (82) 4-0.

Southampton (3-4-1-2): Moss; Maddison, Lundekvam, Dryden; Slater (Heaney, 17, Watkinson, 72), Oakley, Magilton, Charlton; Le Tissier; Shipperley, Watson. Substitutes not used: Benali, Flahavan, Potter.

Middlesbrough (5-2-2-1): Miller; Fleming, Whyte, Vickers (Cox, 79), Whelan (Moore, 64), Branco; Emerson, Stamp; Barmby, Juninho; Ravanelli. Subsitutes not used: Hendrie, Hignett, Roberts (gk).

Referee: L R Dilkes (Mossley).

Bookings: Middlesbrough Whelan, Juninho.

Man of the match: Le Tissier. Attendance: 15,230.