Unfit Le Tissier reluctant to play

Southampton 2 Ostenstad 32, Van Gobbel 48 Leicester City 2 Heskey 46, Claridge 70 Attendance: 15,044
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Matthew Le Tissier yesterday effectively ruled himself out of playing any part in England's friendly match against Mexico on Saturday. The Southampton forward came off the field after making only a limited contribution to a scrappy encounter against Leicester to say that he was unable to do himself justice, and that under those circumstances he would rather not play.

Le Tissier has foot and groin injuries, the latter almost certainly requiring surgery in the summer. "I'm struggling during the second half of matches," he said. "It's just a question of limping through." He confirmed that he would report for duty at the England camp tomorrow night and see what the team doctor had to say. But everything points to Le Tissier's absence.

"I've told Glenn Hoddle I've got fitness problems," Le Tissier said. "If there wasn't an England match I would probably rest for the next two weeks. If Southampton were in mid-table I probably wouldn't be playing at all at the moment. It's not the pressure of what you guys [the press] might say that would stop me wanting to play it would be the feeling that I couldn't do myself justice."

Asked what he would do in this situation if he were the England manager, Le Tissier said he would ask the player concerned if he thought he was fit. "We all saw with Alan Shearer in the last game [against Italy] what happens if someone plays when they are not fit." Le Tissier clearly isn't, so it would be perverse of Hoddle and unfair on the player to force him to take part.

Graeme Souness, the Southampton manager, confirmed that it was only the seriousness of his team's plight at the bottom of the Premiership that was obliging him to include Le Tissier. "Our concern is Matt going off with England and coming back with the situation even worse," he said.

The pressure, therefore, seems to be mounting on Hoddle to abandon any hope of playing Le Tissier, who he said told him last week he was fit enough in spite of not playing in the match Southampton lost at Chelsea. That led to a dispute over the player's true condition between Hoddle and Souness, but surely the England manager must now concede that Le Tissier cannot figure in his immediate plans.

What is disappointing for Hoddle may be much worse for Souness, who also criticised his team for their "lack of bottle". Souness knows all about bottle. "Of course we are nervous," he said. "But we've got to overcome that. We've got to roll up our sleeves and show we can battle."

Certainly Southampton were all over the place for the first half-hour, barely able to string two passes together. Leicester were little better but had less need to be from their position of relative safety in mid- table and with the Coca-Cola Cup final in a fortnight's time on their minds.

As it was, Southampton took a 32nd-minute lead when Egil Ostenstad converted a cross from Eyal Berkovitch, but poor defending from a corner allowed Emile Heskey to equalise a minute into the second half. Luckily for Southampton, Leicester reciprocated three minutes later, allowing Ulrich van Gobbel to volley in his first goal in the Premiership.

But Southampton were forced to concede a draw when another outbreak of defensive confusion led to a 70th-minute goal that Steve Claridge was claiming but for which the decisive contribution may have come from Southampton's Richard Dryden.

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