Saints deceive Souness

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The Independent Online
Southampton 2 Sheffield Wednesday 3

Nothing has changed at Southampton. Managers arrive, managers depart but the struggle for survival goes on forever. Graeme Souness may be a big name with a big reputation but he is merely the latest in a long line which has failed to alter history.

His lament had a familiar ring to it as well. "There are no easy games in the Premiership," Souness said. "And if you gift goals to teams it is extremely hard for you. For the last three weeks we have done nothing but work on our defence. For 45 minutes I think we've cracked it and for 45 minutes I think: have they grasped anything?"

Southampton's traditionally desperate plight is enshrined in the statistics. They have now conceded 44 league goals and are in second bottom position. Only Middlesbrough have let in more, 45, and they are bottom.

The lapses were merely heightened on Saturday because they came after Southampton not only went two goals in front but had apparently dismantled Sheffield Wednesday's composure. Perhaps they should have put it beyond Wednesday's reach then.

True, they were twice denied by splendid saves from Kevin Pressman but other opportunities, both before and after a routine close-range shot from Egil Ostenstad which gave them the lead and a penalty by Matthew Le Tissier which increased it, ought to have been converted.

Still, it was impossible to anticipate Wednesday's revival. Wimpish was the word used by their manager, David Pleat, to describe their first- half efforts and he was probably being polite. Des Walker, missing his first game of the season with a throat infection, will have no trouble in regaining his place. But after two adroit interval substitutions they were level within 11 minutes of the resumption, thanks to two impressive surges by David Hirst, and by the time Andy Booth secured the winner with nine minutes left had reversed the balance of confident, assertive attacking. Where Eyal Berkovitch and Le Tissier were deftly predominant in the first half, now they were nowhere to be seen.

If Souness rightly identified casual defending as the chief cause of the transformation, tribute should also be paid to Hirst for taking advantage of it. His finishes, the first with the left foot, the second with the right, both illustrated his power and prompted the belief that at 29, even with his injury record, he can pose difficulties for smarter defences.

Souness can only trust that he follows history in another important respect. Come May, Southampton traditionally survive.

Goals: Ostenstad (29) 1-0; Le Tissier pen (33) 2-0; Hirst (50) 2-1; Hirst (56) 2-2; Booth (81) 2-3.

Southampton (4-3-1-2): Taylor; Van Gobbel (Slater, 66), Monkou, Maddison, Charlton (Robinson, 83); Dodd, Neilson, Magilton; Berkovitch; Le Tissier, Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Basham, Lundekvam, Beasant (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nicol, Newsome, Stefanovic, Nolan; Humphreys (Booth, h-t), Collins (Blinker, h-t), Atherton, Pembridge; Carbone (Oakes, 89); Hirst. Substitutes not used: Briscoe, Clarke (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Booking: Southampton: Van Gobbel. Wednesday: Atherton, Blinker, Pembridge.

Man of the match: Hirst.

Attendance: 15,062.

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