Saints in Elm Park nightmare

FA Cup third round: Souness sees two players sent off as Reading romp home while little Wrexham force a replay
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The Independent Online
Jack Frost not so much nipped at the nose of the FA Cup third round as severely raked its shins with the postponement of half of the 28 ties due to be played yesterday. And although Premiership seniority held sway almost everywhere, Graeme Souness's Southampton were humbled 3-1 at First Division Reading. To add insult, the Saints finished with nine men when Francis Benali and Robbie Slater were sent off for violent conduct and foul and abusive language respectively, which was as nothing compared to their manager's views on referee Graham Poll, whom he tried to confront after the final whistle.

Souness, who had his path to Poll blocked by stewards, said: "I met the referee this morning and told him then that [the pitch] wasn't fit to play. He came out with two incredible statements. First, that it was like playing on the pitch in August. The second was that it would be OK if the players went at it only 90 per cent. I told him it was a Cup tie, so how could he expect players to go 90 per cent?"

Souness added: "Mr Poll has a reputation among the professionals in the game as somebody who is trying to make a name for himself. It's the second time in a week that he's made teams play when the pitch wasn't playable. As I said, he's a referee trying to make a name for himself. He's done that today."

But Souness accepted that Reading, who knocked Southampton out of the Coca-Cola Cup last season, deserved to win. James Lambert gave them a first-half lead but Egil Ostenstadt's seventh goal of the season got the visitors back into the game early in the second half. Six minutes later, Lambert's centre was headed back by Trevor Morley for Darren Caskey to volley in from eight yards.

With 13 minutes left, Benali elbowed Morley in the face as they chased Lambert's long ball and was sent off to leave Morley to convert the spot- kick. Saints' sins were compounded by Slater's dismissal for unseasonal comments to a linesman.

Knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup by Second Division Stockport last month, West Ham looked set for further embarrassment when Bryan Hughes gave Wrexham, also of the Second Division, a sixth-minute lead on a snow-covered Racecourse Ground. Garth Owen's corner kick was headed goalwards by Brian Carey and Hughes nodded past Ludek Miklosko. But Hugo Porfirio's impudent lob - "one of the most beautiful goals I have ever scored" - a minute before half-time gave the Hammers a replay.

Like Souness, the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, was not impressed that the game had gone ahead. "It was scandalous. My players said the pitch was a disgrace. How can you play on frozen snow? We tried to play a passing game, but I told my players to kick the ball as far forward as possible and chase it. "

Brian Flynn, the Wrexham manager, was more conciliatory. "Both sides did their best on the snowbound surface although it looked worse than it actually was. The bonus is the financial reward from another game against a Premiership side."

Top cat seniority was illustrated most emphatically at Hillsborough where Sheffield Wednesday thrashed Grimsby Town, bottom of the First Division, 7-1, Andy Booth and Ritchie Humphreys both scoring twice. This was the crueller side of the Cup.

"It was a big disappointment," the Mariners' crestfallen caretaker manager, Kenny Swain, said. "We were so slack in the first half I couldn't believe it. After 10 minutes of the second half I wanted the whistle to go."

Reports, page 28

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