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DEAN RICHARDS produced another commanding performance at the heart of the Southampton defence at Tottenham on Sunday. But despite his valiant efforts the former Wolves hardman was unable to prevent the Saints slumping to their third consecutive defeat of the season.

Richards, whose five goal-line clearances last season was the highest made by an individual player, has carried his fine displays into the new term and is a key component in Stuart Gray's team.

Which must make it all the more disconcerting for Saints supporters to have to listen to the consistent rumours that the club who poached their manager are now insistent on taking Richards away from them.

Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe has already turned down one £4 million bid from Spurs and reported them to the FA Premier League for approaching a player who only signed a two-year extension to his current contract recently, tying him to the club until 2005.

But despite this, the gossip emanating from St Mary's is that Southampton are prepared to sell if Spurs up their offer to £10million. However player performance analysts Opta suggest that it may be foolish to release their most valuable performer, especially when the team have made such a disappointing start to the new season.

Richards made his aerial presence felt on Sunday with 12 clearances at White Hart Lane -more than any other Saints player - and he also came closest to ending Southampton's goal drought with two headers that brought the best out of Neil Sullivan in the Spurs goal.

Richards also reads the game immaculately and displays great positional sense. His exquisite timing is reflected in the fact that he has only committed one foul this season despite coming up against such quality forwards as Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

His displays have resulted in his present manager Gray re-igniting the calls for the Bradford-born defender to earn international recognition for his country, but perhaps Richards thinks that he would stand more chance of breaking into the national squad if he played on a bigger stage.

The Spurs fans would certainly welcome his arrival, as they even joined in the chants of "Deano, Deano". That were emanating from the visitors enclosure at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Ever since Sol Campbell left the north Londoners, they have been looking for a dominant central defender to bolster the team. Despite having some fine youngsters in Gary Doherty - who actually made more clearances than Richards on Sunday - Ledley King and Anthony Gardener to return from injury, Hoddle has made no secret of his desire to sign a more experienced defender.

And Richards, whose 32 interceptions last season was more than any other Premiership player, is the man that Hoddle really wants as he aims to continue rebuilding the Tottenham side with players who will adhere to his footballing principles.