Souness'decision proves costly

Chelsea 1 Southampton 0
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Chelsea 1 Southampton 0

It smacked of a gamble at the last-chance saloon for Graeme Souness, but the Southampton manager's decision to omit the enigmatic Matt Le Tissier from his starting line-up at Stamford Bridge last night failed to pay off. Southampton are in free-fall and it will take more than one man, one senses, to halt their descent towards the First Division.

Chelsea, caught between the need to finish as high as possible in the League and saving themselves for their FA Cup semi-final against Wimbledon, were there to be beaten. But the days when Southampton hit anyone for six, never mind Manchester United, are long gone and they have now won just three of their last 22 League games.

The timing of Le Tissier's "demotion" - Souness claimed it was due to a "chronic foot condition" and groin problem could not have come at a worse moment for the Channel Islander, with the announcement today of the English squad for the game against Mexico on Saturday week. For better or worse, the languid one must hope that Glenn Hoddle has already made his mind up on that score. But it is hard to imagine Le Tissier getting anxious about anything.

Injured or not - and the man himself said "it's a surprise to me I was left out" - he emerged from the substitutes' bench after 52 minutes only to make no discernible difference to the outcome. "I'm not 100 per cent fit, but I still feel I could have an impact on games," he said.

On a night when Chelsea's shortcomings in defence in the absence of Franck Leboeuf were frequently exposed, they at least had cause to be grateful for the goalkeeping of the much maligned Frode Grodas for a win which sees them leapfrog over two clubs into fifth place.

As is often their way, they were rescued by the quality of their forward play and Gianfranco Zola in particular. His strike after 22 minutes brought the architect-cum-demolition man level on 11 goals with leading scorers Gianluca Vialli and Mark Hughes, whose chest-down was whipped home by the diminutive striker.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Grodas; Sinclair, Clarke, Johnsen, Burley; Petrescu, Di Matteo, Wise, P Hughes (Parker, 69); M Hughes, Zola. Substitutes not used: Myers, Vialli, Morris, Colgan (gk).

Southampton (4-4-2): Taylor; Van Gobbel, Neilson, Dryden, Charlton (Benali, 76); Slater, Berkovitch, Magilton, Oakley (Le Tissier, 52); Ostenstad, Evans. Substitutes not used: Maddison, Basham, Beasant (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley)