Southampton, boasting their unbeaten home record, faced Sunderland who have won only once away with hopes of having some pantomime-like fun. Oh no they didn't. In a dreadfully disjointed game at the St Mary's Stadium it took a fourth minute injury time goal by Jo Tessem to maintain their successful run.
Scruffy and blessed by good fortune at the end, nevertheless their victory enhanced the possibility that European football can be achieved. However, their manager, Gordon Strachan, said that for the moment Europe was not being considered. "Our next objective is only to catch the team ahead of us."
They are now equal seventh on points with Tottenham and Newcastle which, Howard Wilkinson, Sunderland manager said: "Speaks volumes for what Gordon has achieved - Southampton now play as a team." True, usually, but less so yesterday. Strachan had to confess: "We had three injury time goals scored against us earlier in the season, so I suppose this was only fair."
Within eight minutes Beattie had got the ball in the net but referee Mike Riley had already blow for a foul by Ormerod on the goalkeeper, Jürgen Macho. Sunderland toughened up. Beattie and Ormerod felt the weight of some heavy tackling which at least kept them at bay while inspiring antagonism.
A rugged interception by Kevin Kilbane on Fabrice Fernandez instigated bad feeling all round. Another dubious crunch by Kilbane on Rory Delap was ignored by Riley but not by several coaches including Wilkinson's assistant Steve Cotterill and Strachan's Dennis Rofe and Garry Pendrey who almost came to blows as they raced out of the dugouts and had to be restrained by the fourth official Graham Poll and warned by the referee. Strachan remarked later: "I couldn't believe what was happening - I didn't want to get involved"
Southampton settled back into some semblance of an attacking pattern. Beattie twice had Macho struggling to beat out shots but the goalkeeper excelled when deflecting a drive from Paul Telfer and another from Fernandez. Profligate finishing became a sequence.
Sunderland's breakaways were occasional and only occasionally effective. Kevin Phillips was finding it difficult to bypass Claus Lundekvam but Kevin Kyle sometimes looked dangerous. Phillips, who Wilkinson said was "drained" after a tough recent programme, was substituted at half-time.
Michael Proctor's arrival was marked by a first touch that could have penalised Southampton for their careless striking. His angled shot behind the defence clipped the foot of the post.
Wilkinson finally added Tore Andre Flo to his attack which at least gave it some equality against tall defenders. Getting the ball to him was another matter, except at set pieces.
Southampton eventually got the advantage they marginally deserved. In the 72nd minute Marsden nipped along the right edge and centred for Beattie to power a header past Macho yet the lead survived for only five minutes before Flo's height told. Gavin McCann floated a corner into his flight path and an equaliser was inevitable.
There should also have been inevitability when a couple of minutes later, Tessem snatched at an open goal but Beattie skied the rebound.
So in the fourth minute of injury time Delap slung over a long throw and Tessem headed down. Stephen Wright attempted to block the ball on the line but it had already crossed over as he dropped to the ground.
Beattie 73, Tessem 90
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 31,423
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