Saints' staying power

Southampton 2 Evans 13, Berkovitch 36 West Ham United 0 Attend ance: 15,244
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The Independent Online
The Old Roman saying "success is not enough, others must fail also" aptly sums up the annual ritual of football's relegation battle. It seems especially valid this season with no obvious dead body lying on the floor: winning while those around you are losing is the key to survival. Southampton were able to achieve both yesterday, with an emphatic defeat of their basement colleagues West Ham that lifted them out of the bottom three and improved their goal difference. It was the Saints' first home win since 21 December.

Southampton managed this despite missing a first-half penalty and having Jason Dodd sent off just before half-time, which speaks volumes for the determination Graeme Souness has instilled in them at this vital stage of the season. How easy it is to lose collective nerve was demonstrated by West Ham, who were barely in the match as an attacking force despite their recent good record.

Southampton's attacking momentum, sustained throughout a tumultuous first half, owed much to an inspirational performance by their tiny Israeli midfielder Eyal Berkovitch, who scored the second goal, had a foot in the first, and generally orchestrated the pressure on the West Ham defence. But he had allies all over the field: Mickey Evans, the 24-year-old forward recently signed for pounds 500,000 from Plymouth Argyle, scored his third goal in a week and Robbie Slater, a former Hammer, was absolutely tireless on the left side of midfield.

These three combined to make the first vital goal, as Berkovitch collected Ludek Miklosko's poor clearance, smuggled it out to Slater and the Australian's deep cross was headed in off the woodwork by Evans.

West Ham had already shown their nervousness when Miklosko dropped a corner, forcing Keith Rowlands to clear Ulrich van Gobbel's shot off the line, and they had another escape on 26 minutes when Jim Magilton struck his penalty straight at Miklosko after Evans had been felled by Richard Hall.

On sheer weight of possession Southampton deserved more, and Berkovitch duly delivered, firing home after Claus Lundekvam had surged upfield and played him in. There did not seem to be a cloud in Southampton's sky until Dodd was sent off just before half-time, having tugged John Hartson down with the Welshman running at goal.

"We huffed and puffed in the second half," the West Ham manager Harry Redknapp conceded, "but really we weren't at the races today. We were always second-best."

Indeed as the 10-man Saints comfortably held on to their advantage - "A brilliant performance in the first half, followed by a gritty one in the second," concluded Souness - they might even have added more goals as Miklosko denied Egil Ostenstad and Magilton with brilliant saves. "I was really happy with the football we played today," Souness continued, "and if our defence had been better in the middle of the season we wouldn't have been in this trouble."

Southampton entertain Coventry in another six-pointer next Saturday. "Like life, you can't ask anything more than to be in charge of your own destiny," Souness said, creating a telling motto of his own.

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