Football: WHAT A CLARI ON; Southampton 1 Millwall 1 Even Strach 'Loves' Old Entertainer

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Byline: Frank WIECHULA

STEVE CLARIDGE wears his heart on his sleeve and his age on his shirt.

Socks down to his ankles and arms pumping like pistons, the veteran striker looks like he could do with a good feed. But he knows how to score goals, inspire his team and enjoy the banter with the crowd.

The 36-year-old veteran was the outstanding figure in this intriguing tussle - and should have been celebrating a famous Cup win with his 16th-minute strike.

The fact that it was late Southampton sub Kevin Davies - scorer of three goals on loan at the Lions earlier this season - who denied Millwall at the death only added to the cruel irony.

Almost every time Claridge touched the ball, the former Portsmouth player-manager, who still lives in nearby Fareham, was barracked by the home fans. And how he loved it.

He politely signalled to the fans when they jeered him and smiled when the Millwall supporters chanted: "Claridge for England."

He even had time to evade a tackle and play the ball up the line while swigging from a water bottle chucked to him by Lions staff.What a shame the irrepressible entertainer and SP columnist wasn't rewarded, along with his team-mates, with a deserved victory.

But don't bet against this inveterate gambler upsetting the odds again in the replay on February 4.

Best pals and rival bosses both enthused, Millwall's Mark McGhee saying: "Steve ran himself into the ground and came off because he couldn't go on any longer. He continues to confound you.

"Most places he goes he's liked and respected. He's one of those characters that a lot of fans at other clubs enjoy seeing.

"There are one or two places where he's not particularly liked, and this is one of them - but he revels in that stick," said the Millwall boss. Saints manager Gordon Strachan said: "Claridge was excellent today, outstanding. I love players who love the game, who are self-motivated - and that's what he is.

"I know how hard it is to keep going at that age and he's a credit to himself, fantastic."

Millwall, who've never beaten Southampton in six FA Cup ties, thought they were on their way when goal poacher Claridge pounced on Steven Reid's free-kick, turning his marker to slide the ball home. …