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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 August, 2003, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Saints find faith in Phillips
By John May

Southampton's new striker Kevin Phillips
Kevin Phillips' move to Southampton completes a story that would not seem out of place on the Antiques Roadshow.

Imagine your annoyance if you were offered a painting, and turned it down as you were having a loft clearance.

Years later, what you thought was a daub by a chimp with a paintbrush turns out to be an old master - and you have to pay through the nose for it!

When a small, impish lad by the name of Phillips turned up at Southampton's training ground in 1994, they did not believe he was a striker.

Having seen a burly youngster by the name of Shearer pass impressively through their ranks, Saints had no real reason to suspect that the slightly built Phillips could emulate him.

Saints youth team coach Dave Merrington was singularly unimpressed by the hopeful as a forward and even gave him a try-out at right-back.

In one trial game he was even asked to put on the goalkeeper's gloves.

Eventually, it was left to then Saints boss Chris Nicholl to break the painful news to Phillips.

Football, of course, is riddled with clubs rejecting young ugly ducklings, who later turn out to be swans.

And in fairness to Merrington, it would be difficult to criticise him for a judgement call that any top manager has had to make during his time.

After all, Merrington is the man who moulded Alan Shearer, Matthew Le Tissier, Rodney and Raymond Wallace, as well as the likes of Neil Maddison and Tommy Widdrington.

His eye for talent is shrewd, and when a shattered and disillusioned Phillips set off to rebuild his dreams at Baldock Town, nobody suggested at the time that he was playing beneath his level.

But such is the way footballers develop, and his feats for Baldock soon attracted the attentions of Watford, who saw something in him.

The 10,000 they forked out for him proved a good investment as he netted 24 goals in 54 appearances for the Hornets.

That, in turn, made Sunderland sit up. They noticed how effective the little, wasp-like Philips was for the Hornets, operating alongside a big man.

Sunderland had the perfect foil in big Niall Quinn, and Phillips enjoyed fruitful days on Wearside as he fed off the Irishman.

A total of 115 goals in 208 league games for the Black Cats told its own tale, and even if the goals dried up as Sunderland plummeted last season, Phillips still smacks of pedigree.

Saints will be hoping he will be able to do something similar alongside James Beattie.

If nothing else, Phillips will provide stiff competition for Marian Pahars, who was Beattie's preferred sidekick before an ankle injury robbed him of a season.


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Southampton striker Kevin Phillips
"It's a new start for me"





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