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Saints boss voices fears of the drop

John Barnes made Dave Beasant pay the price for another nightmare moment as Liverpool ended the year five-points clear of the field. But poor Beasant's nickname of "Lurch" never seemed more apt than after the howler that must leave him feeling he is cursed.

The former England keeper had done his bit to keep Graeme Souness' battling side on terms with the title-chasers, and the game seemed to be drifting to a draw until Lady Luck intervened 13 minutes from time. When the ball ran through to Beasant wide out on the right he could have dribbled back into his box to pick it up. Instead, Beasant attempted to clear up the line, hitting his effort straight onto Barnes' left foot 45 yards out. Barnes, a survivor of Liverpool's 1990 championship-winning side, returned the ball with interest first-time towards the empty net. And even though the horror-struck Beasant suddenly broke into a sprint as the ball rolled towards the net, he could not get there in time as it just had the momentum to roll over the line.

On such moments, perhaps, are titles won; on such moments do teams go down -- and both might come to pass come May.

Even the inspiration of second-half substitute Matt Le Tissier could not get Beasant out of jail as the Saints slipped to their seventh defeat in eight games. Yet it was far from fair on the South Coast side, who surely deserved something for their efforts. It was not to be, but it might have been different if Souness had not put Le Tissier on the bench, Matthew Robinson making his first start on the left.

His decision to put Ulrich Van Gobbel man-to-man on Steve McManaman was successful, the Dutchman keeping a tight rein on the will 'o the wisp England winger. And with Robbie Slater all over the place, Saints lacked for nothing.

They even had the first shot on goal, David James saving comfortably from Neil Maddison, but Liverpool were content to knock the ball around, awaiting the chance to pounce. Roy Evans' side should have done just that in the 12th minute. Michael Thomas floated the ball over the top, and with the home defence looking for a flag that did not come, Fowler was away.

Stan Collymore, unmarked, was screaming for the ball inside, but Fowler -- with 17 goals from his last 15 games -- went for goal himself, drilling a shot that squeezed under Dave Beasant but bounced over the bar. That, however, was the only clear-cut opening the Merseysiders created in the first half, as Southampton ran and ran, Eyal Berkovic looking to probe, albeit to little real effect.

Even so, it needed the bar to prevent Liverpool taking an interval lead. Former Saint favourite Mark Wright was first to react after another ex-Dell boy, Neil Ruddock, headed Stig Bjornebye's 29th minute corner into the air. Robinson, like the rest of the Saints side, stood and watched as the ball came down eight yards out, Wright rising to nod goalwards. Beasant was beaten, but the woodwork was not, and the home fans breathed again.

Collymore and Bjornebye were not far away with efforts, yet, with McManaman shackled, it had been a decidedly unconvincing performance by the Anfield outfit at the interval.

They certainly stepped up a gear at the start of the second, and were furious at not getting something when Thomas slipped Fowler in two minutes after the break. Claus Lundekvam certainly made contact from behind to send the striker to the ground on the edge of the box, but while the flag was waved, the referee was not interested, or swayed by the Liverpool protests.

The appearance of Le Tissier in the 58th minute -- Gordon Watson making way -- was greeted with huge cheers, and Berkovic then failed to match his approach work with his shot after tricking his way into the box. Le Tissier gave the Saints an extra dimension, but Liverpool were still the more likely, and Fowler was guilty man again from Barnes' slide-rule pass in the 62nd minute, shooting weakly at Beasant when he could have picked his spot.

And Fowler's generosity almost cost Liverpool dear as Le Tissier came out of the wings to take centre stage. One volley, from almost 30 yards, brought a fine diving stop from James, who then did well at the foot of his right-hand post after brilliance by Le Tissier induced a Ruddock foul. James did even better in the 69th minute, plunging to his right to turn aside Ostenstad's fierce drive after Berkovic had made the most of a gift from Wright, and also saved from the Israeli late-on.

But Beasant's moment of desperation had already occurred, and while he partially redeemed himself with a fine stop from Jason McAteer, the game was destined to be remembered for his blunder. Poor old Beasant.

Southampton boss Graeme Souness believes his side are heading for relegation unless they "stop shooting themselves in the foot." Souness admitted: "We were the better side in the first half, matched them in the second half, but to lose the way we did really sums our season up. We are playing the game the right way, we do try and pass the ball around. But ultimately if you keep shooting yourself in the foot you are going to lose games. So far this season we have not looked solid at the back. We keep giving away daft goals. Teams don't have to do anything clever against us at the moment. If we can just eliminate the silly mistakes we won't have any problems."

John Barnes said: "We were atrocious in the first half, we just couldn't pass. We allowed them to dictate the game and we were fortunate to go in at half time at 0-0. But overall we were lucky. As for my goal, whether it goes in off your knee, from 10 yards or 20 yards, it doesn't matter. But I thought it was going to take something like that, a bit of a fluke, to decide the game today."

But despite Liverpool being off the boil, Barnes, making his 300th league appearance, said the side are now taking points from matches they were losing last season a vital factor which saw them slide away from the title race last term. He added: "Last year we were losing games like this one, but now we are battling even though we are not playing particularly well and we are also not conceding goals."

Copyright - Press Association

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