Soccer: Gray hails battling Saints

Newcastle United 1 Southampton 1

Newcastle United 1 Southampton 1

Southampton boss Stuart Gray hailed his battling players after they finally ended their nine-hour goal drought at Newcastle.

Latvian striker Marian Pahars came off the bench to end a run of more than five games without a goal with a neat header 10 minutes from time in a game the Saints dominated for long periods but looked like losing until the final throw of the dice.

Newcastle had gone ahead through Kevin Gallacher’s 26th-minute strike, but the Magpies could not kill the game off and gradually unravelled as Gray’s men turned the screw.

The caretaker boss was delighted with the effort shown by his players, who nevertheless have now not won in six games since Glenn Hoddle left for Tottenham.

‘‘We’ve played very well in the last four games and it does get a bit dispiriting, but we can take heart from that,’’ he said. ‘‘Every player who pulled on a Southampton shirt tonight gave us a seven or eight out of 10 performance.

‘‘When Hassan (Kachloul) went through, well I don’t get excited now about one-on-ones, and there was a bit of disbelief when Marian’s header hit the back of the net.

‘‘It’s not for the lack of creating chances. We’ve just been a bit unfortunate with assistant referees’ decisions which ruled us out a couple of goals.

‘‘But I just said to the boys if you keep creating chances, you’ll get your rewards, and they have done tonight.’’

Gray’s future remains to be decided as the Saints prepare to move into their new home, but he was maintaining his sense of humour as he prepared for the long journey south.

‘‘At the moment, the only thing we have in common with Manchester United is we both fill our stadiums,’’ he said. ‘‘They get 67,000 and we get 15,250.

‘‘Moving into a 32,000 all-seater stadium hopefully will generate enough income to improve the quality of players coming into the football club.’’

The Saints played in front of a crowd of 50,439 at St James’s Park, but the vast majority of them went home disappointed after yet another sub-standard display by Bobby Robson’s side, especially after the break.

The Newcastle boss was without key players Alan Shearer who was in Denver, Colorado waiting to discover if he needs a second operation on his injured knee Rob Lee, Kieron Dyer and Nolberto Solano, and their deputies struggled in their absence.

‘‘We were in a winning position without Solano, without Dyer, without Shearer and without Robert Lee,’’ Robson said. ‘‘When those four or five players are out, we just lose that extra bit of quality.

‘‘We need to bring in some extra quality as well as having those four or five key players back in for next season. We just need to add to the strength of the squad and the team.

‘‘It’s very difficult to replace Solano, Lee, Shearer and Dyer quickly. We just lost a little bit of leadership tonight on the pitch.

‘‘As a manager, it’s frustrating because you’re the manager, you’re responsible, but there’s nothing you can do at that moment. It’s in the hands of the players.

‘‘You just hope that they can do it for you. Can they get it together, can they bring the ball down, can they select the right pass?

‘‘All right, Wayne Quinn gets beaten on the flank by Kevin Davies and he stands up a very good ball to be fair, but the littlest man on the pitch, Pahars, is in the middle of the goal free.

‘‘Carl Cort wasn’t free in their box at any time, and neither was Gallacher. We just lost them on marking.’’

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