Saints only just stay alive

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The Independent Online
Southampton 0 Wimbledon 0

For a desperate relegation struggle it was astonishingly free of either incident or drama at The Dell yesterday. It was the sort of match designed to induce apoplexy among fans but narcolepsy was a more likely by product of the proceedings.

Southampton, unsure of both future and method, found it persistently difficult to come to terms with Wimbledon's fluid five man midfield. They conceived little and executed nothing.

It was the sort of performance that would have left them no room to complain about being relegated. This could not prevent the usual self- congratulation at the end, the lap of honour and the plaudits of fans who surely knew they had deserved better. Only events elsewhere - far more dramatic and adventurous - kept the Saints in the top division of English football for the 19th consecutive season. They rarely looked like one of only three teams to have beaten both Manchester United and Newcastle United this season. Whatever they tried they had neither harmony nor wit. What was present of those qualities came from the fans early in the second half who were both bored and lulled into a false sense of security by the 2-0 scoreline from Maine Road.

Still smarting from their former manager's departure (nothing is so dangerous as a football fan scorned) they took to chanting "he's short, he's fat, he's going to get the sack, Alan Ball, Alan Ball". So it went on in similar vein until 15 minutes from the end. The news filtered through that City had equalised against Liverpool. It spread round the stadium like one of those giant flags which crowds had taken to collecting. This was quickly transmitted to the players. The players failed to respond.

Only in the final seconds did Southampton truly deserve to retain Premiership status by their own efforts. Then Matthew Le Tissier slipped the ball inside from the right to Jim Magilton whose shot seemed to be going in at the left-hand post before goalkeeper Neil Sullivan intervened.

There were no other closer opportunities. Wimbledon make life easy for nobody at any time and saw no reason to start at this stage of the season.

After only two minutes, taking advantage of a passive opposition, they might have gone into the lead when Dean Holdsworth's cross from the left found an unmarked Robbie Earle. He snatched at the shot and Wimbledon confined themselves to containment thereafter.

Le Tissier, largely anonymous, but now sure to stay at the Dell next season, had the odd moment of inspiration. His 30th-minute corner found Jason Dodd whose header glided unnecessarily wide. The Southampton manager, Dave Merrington, was presented with his manager of the month award before the match. From the way fans reacted he might have been manager of the season.

Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Neilson, Hall, Monkou, Benali; Dodd, Magilton, Venison, Heaney; Le Tissier, Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Bennett, Watson, Madison.

Wimbledon (3-5-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Reeves; Perry, Earl, Jones, Leonhardson (Harford 81), Kimble; Ekoku, Holdsworth (Goodman 81). Substitute not used: Murphy.

Referee: M Read (Birmingham).

Bookings: Southampton: Heaney, Wimbledon: Perry.

Man of the match: Venison.

Attendance: 15,172.

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