Downing ruins Redknapp's day
By Graeme Bailey. Last Updated: 11/12/04 4:55pm
Harry Redknapp's magic touch was in evidence at St Mary's, but somehow his new charges managed to throw away a two-goal lead as they drew 2-2 with a Stewart Downing-inspired Middlesbrough.
Southampton were up for the game from the first whistle and the battling qualities missing in recent weeks were there with plenty to spare.
Boro played their part, but Southampton's lead was deserved as Kevin Phillips headed his side ahead.
The second came on the hour when somehow Mark Schwarzer allowed Peter Crouch's tame header through his legs.
Boro left their comeback almightily late and it was their wing wizard Downing who dragged them back into the game almost single handed.
His wicked in-swinging corner went in off Danny Higginbotham with just a couple of minutes left and then in the final minute, he picked up the ball 30-yards out, carried the ball on before unleashing a stinging drive into the corner past Antti Niemi's hand.
Saints had began brightly and put Boro under pressure from the off with Anders Svensson firing wide from a good position.
Claus Lundekvam then caused problems in the penalty box as he headed a Graeme Le Saux free kick back across the area, but scrambled the ball away but The Saints worked it back to an unmarked Phillips who could only toe-poke the ball wide from six yards.
Boro then pushed forward down their left with Downing and Michael Reiziger causing problems and the Dutchman almost opened his account as he stung the hands of Niemi in the home goal with a drive from the edge of the area.
The match became a very open affair and both sides were attacking at every given opportunity.
Phillips was causing all sorts of problems for Boro and he saw another effort curl wide, although he could consider himself lucky not to be in serious trouble as he lunged in with a two-footed challenge at Boro's Tony McMahon.
Boro should have gone ahead five minutes before the interval when they broke quickly, Mark Viduka took the ball on and looked for strike partner Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, but the Dutchman was shocked to see the ball come through two Saints defenders and to him, and he snatched at his effort and Niemi held easily.
The Saints were having plenty of joy down Boro's right and that is where the opener came from just before half time. Le Saux worked his way past Ray Parlour and crossed at the near post for Phillips who bulleted a header past Schwarzer - who will have been disappointed to have been beaten.
Boro were unhappy with referee Neale Barry as they felt Boudewijn Zenden was fouled in the build-up to the goal, but he waved away their appeals.
The visitors needed to step up the pace in the second period, but it was Southampton who looked the most likely with Crouch and Phillips causing more problems than Hasselbaink and Viduka.
Boro did have a chance with a free kick 25 yards from goal after Downing was fouled by Delap, but Hasselbaink fired over.
With England manager Sven Goran Eriksson looking on, Downing was obviously keen to impress but he just could not find the room to get at Southampton - and when he did his crossing surprisingly let him down.
Downing then almost levelled when he broke into the area and was found brilliantly by substitute Szilard Nemeth, but from just four yards his effort was saved wonderfully by Niemi when he looked beaten.
Downing then returned the compliment for Nemeth as he whipped a cross into the area which found the Slovak on the edge of the area, but he fired his shot just wide.
Phillips forced a good save from Schwarzer as The Saints looked for a crucial second, but unfortunately for the Aussie he could not repeat that form just moments later. The resulting corner was floated and Crouch got up to head at goal, and although his effort should not have gone in - it did as it went through the legs of the Boro number one.
Boro continued to push forward despite conceding again and they were unlucky when Viduka fed Hasselbaink and he fired across Niemi and off the post.
Southampton seemed happy to try and contain Boro and although it made for a few nervous moments - they looked reasonably comfortable.
Boro carried on trying and Viduka went close with a header, but it just did not look as if there was any way through - then a stroke of luck came the way of Steve McClaren's side as Higginbotham could only deflect Downing's wicked cross past Niemi.
The goal gave Boro real impetus and they began attacking in numbers with four strikers now on the pitch, plus the ubiquitous Downing.
Then in the final minute, inexplicably The Saints backed off Downing as he picked up the ball 30 yards from goal - that just gave him invitation to shoot and he took the invite with both hands as he fired home with a sumptuous drive into the bottom corner.
Not happy with the point Boro were unbelievably pushing for the winner and Saints fans and players alike had the hearts in their mouths as Viduka's effort deflected just wide of the post.
The win would have taken Southampton as high as 15th and out of the bottom three, but it was not to be as Boro - not for the first time this season - denied a new manager an opening game victory.
Redknapp will be bitterly disappointed to have not won, but he will be happy with the performance of his new team - for 88 minutes at least!
Click here for Southampton v Middlesbrough player ratings
|5||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||6|
|11||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||9|
|11||Total Fouls Conceded||12|
Barclays Premier League
|13||Queens Park Rangers||0||0|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||0||0|
|20||West Ham United||0||0|