Top five moments of last season.

With our season drawn to a close, here’s my top five moments of the campaign.

5. The appointment of Adkins.

Pardew was sacked after the 4-0 demolition of Bristol Rovers, and almost immediately, mystery surrounded his successor. Dean Wilkins oversaw the next two league games, which resulted in losses, but Adkins was announced on the 12th September and immediately began to steady the ship. 22nd in the league when he took charge, it was evident from the start that he had a lot of work to do, but the Southampton hierarchy saw him as an ideal candidate from the job. The news of his appointment meant that we could finally get our season under way, and having experience in promotion from this tier in the past, Adkins injected a new wave of optimism into the fans, the squad, and the city.

4. Dean Hammond’s goal against Bournemouth.

The game away at Bournemouth would have just been like any other League One encounter, had the Bournemouth fans not built it up to be bigger than the Old Firm or on par with a meeting between Boca and River Plate. Granted, the sides were close in the table, but the rivalry between the clubs is a product of the overzealous Bournemouth fans’ imagination.

Cries of “We are Southampton, we don’t care about you” soon put Bournemouth in their place, but on the pitch, the home side showed why they were contending the automatic places early on, as the game was evenly fought. The Cherries took the lead on six minutes, after on-loan striker Lauri Dalla Valle fired home from close range. Five minutes later, however, Saints were level, as Lee Barnard’s header was fumbled over the line by the Bournemouth ‘keeper.

It wasn’t until mid-way through the second half when Dean Hammond provided my fourth favourite moment of the season. Alex Chamberlain’s free kick from the right appeared to elude the Bournemouth back line, and it fell to Hammond waiting at the far post,  who slid and knocked the ball past the ‘keeper. Putting Southampton into the lead, and above Bournemouth into the table, it sent the travelling fans into a jubilant celebration. It was madness, and a massive relief, since Bournemouth had been battling hard.

Get in!

Hammond's relief after putting Saints ahead at Bournemouth.

Lambert made sure of the three points with a superb free kick late in the game, but it’s Hammond’s vital goal I’ll remember this game by, and the celebration that followed it.

3. Lee Barnard completing the comeback against MK Dons.

Every game during the run in was massively important as we chased automatic promotion, and the home game against MK Dons was no exception. Going into the game level on points, and with both teams sat in the playoffs, the winner of this tie would gain an invaluable advantage. Having beaten us 2-0 away from home in Adkins’ first game in charge, MK again went 2-0 up early in the second half. It looked as if our luck had run out, that MK would pile even more pressure onto our remaining games in hand, but an inspired substitution from Adkins put paid to any idea that we would go down without a fight.

On came Jonathan Forte, and within two minutes, he had pulled a goal back with just his second touch of the game. Forte had given us hope, and with the fans making more noise than ever, it took just another two minutes before he had single handedly put us level. Firing home from deep inside the MK Dons box, Forte had put our promotion push back on track. It was an incredible five minutes from the Saints, and from Jonathan Forte.

For the next few minutes the home side pushed on for the win, and when Rickie Lambert played an inch-perfect through ball, the St. Mary’s crowd held their breath. Lee Barnard timed his run perfectly, latching on to the pass, before burying his shot in the top left hand corner, completing a sensational eleven minute turnaround, and securing the win.

Safe to say we celebrated like mad, and more importantly, Southampton had gone three points above promotion rivals MK Dons, with three games in hand.

2. Jose Fonte’s winner at Brighton.

Facing a plethora of banners as soon as we entered the Withdean, their sole intention the winding up of us fans and Brighton’s arch enemy Nigel Adkins, we knew the Champions, unbeaten at home all season, would love nothing more than thrashing us, and showing up our manager.

The game was quite an open affair, both teams going close early on. On the stroke of half time, Radhi Jaidi’s horror back pass was taken advantage of and slotted away by Ashley Barnes. Brighton held their lead until the 84th minute, when substitute David Connolly superbly swiped home Lambert’s knock down to surely rescue a point.

Us away fans were still celebrating when Kelvin Davis lobbed a long free kick into the box, and Jose Fonte, rising at the far post, headed back across goal and over the beleaguered Brighton ‘keeper into the back of the net.  I celebrated like I had never celebrated before. Another remarkable turnaround stunned the Brighton support into silence. It destroyed their unbeaten home record, and put us in prime position to claim second place.

In celebrating Fonte’s goal, I went from the back of the stand to the front, tumbling down the steps and ending up a heap on the floor just beyond the barrier. It was pure madness celebrating that goal, and one I’ll never forget.

1. The final final whistle at St. Mary’s.

Having won at Plymouth and all but secured the second automatic promotion spot, the final home game against Walsall would be a celebratory event. Huddersfield would need to win something like 8-0, and hope we lose by the same margin, to have any hope of going up automatically, so promotion was essentially ours to celebrate.

Excellent goals from Guly, Connolly and Chamberlain secured a 3-1 win, and as the clock edged into the late eighties, we made our way down to the front of the Northam to participate in the likely pitch invasion.

The referee made a run for it as he blew his whistle, and the crowds began to surge onto the pitch. I hopped over the advertisement board and hobbled on, following everyone else towards the dugout. Soon losing my mates, I found a crowd surrounding Rickie Lambert, everyone congratulating him. He was hoisted onto the shoulders of the fans, a massive grin on his face, and started chanting “we are going up, we are going up”. It was great to see.

A majority had congregated in front of the dugout, looking up at Cortese as he presided over the thousands of fans now on the pitch. It wasn’t long before the players appeared, each one to massive applause. The thousands on the pitch continued to sing, many of the players joining in, and it was a fantastic experience. Our first promotion for over thirty years, and it felt excellent.

On the pitch, on the pitch, on the pitch.

All the aforementioned moments were fantastic, and all of them played their part in our dramatic push for promotion which ended with the joyous scenes at St. Mary’s.

These are just five of many quality moments that happened over the course of the season, a season that saw us promoted for the first time in decades. We can now look back fondly on our time in League One, and at the same time focus our attentions towards next season, and maybe, just maybe, another promotion push?

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Why Nigel Adkins should be manager of the year.

It’s the 15th September 2010. Nigel Adkins has tasted defeat in his first game in charge of Saints, going down 2-0 away at MK Dons. His new club, since the sacking of Alan Pardew, have gone four games without a win, four games without a goal, and sit uncomfortably in the League One relegation zone. 22nd to be exact. Peterborough, Carlisle and MK Dons lead the pack with twelve points each, whilst Saints share the league’s lowest tally, four points, with Leyton Orient and Dagenham & Redbridge.

Adkins has a lot of work to do.

Southampton started the season favourites for promotion, and Adkins inherited that side six games in to the season, with just one win under their belt. His appointment was met with mixed reactions, but was considered a solid League One manager, with two promotions to his name.

Fast forward just over seven months, and Nigel Adkins’ Southampton all but secure promotion with a 3-1 win away at Plymouth. Whilst the turnaround was completely expected of Adkins by both the Southampton hierarchy and the fans, the manner in which the team has secured promotion surely makes him a contender for manager of the year.

Huddersfield are 24 league games unbeaten, and manager Lee Clark will no doubt also be a contender for the award. The Terriers simply did not give up in the race for second spot, which ultimately ended up going to Southampton after our own impressive run, losing just once in fourteen games, and winning seven out of eight in April. In any other season, Huddersfield might have secured second spot a long time ago, but the stubborn nature of the Saints side saw off the tough opposition, and we can now look forward to returning to Championship football.

Adkins’ league record as Saints boss is impressive. Winning 26 out of 39 league games, his side forced their way up the table from 22nd to 2nd, securing promotion. From the time Adkins took over to the present, compared with Poyet’s record in the same period, Southampton actually have a better record than the league champions. Our poor start before Adkins took charge perhaps damaged our chances of becoming champions, and it’s not to say Brighton don’t deserve it, but I do feel Adkins deserves greater praise than Poyet this season. Whilst that might raise a few eyebrows, the way Adkins has turned around our season deserves special praise.

Under Adkins’ guidance this season, Southampton fans have witnessed some truly memorable moments. The 6-0 away thrashing of Oldham, the fantastic comeback against MK Dons, the last gasp win at Brighton to end their unbeaten home run, and of course the win at Plymouth, that all but sealed our promotion.

High-flying managers like Poyet, Adkins and Clark will always be up there come the end of the season when the managerial awards are mentioned, but it’s not to say they will necessarily win it. League One has had many twists and turns this season, and other managers have done great jobs with their respective clubs. Take Russell Slade at Leyton Orient for example. Like Saints, they started the season poorly, but a late surge up the table saw them narrowly miss out securing a playoff spot. Other managers tasked with consolidating their club’s League One status have succeeded and even surpassed expectations, and it’s likely that one of these names will be in the running.

Adkins deserves praise for the job he has done at Southampton this season. Whether that praise will come in the form of the League One manager of the year award remains to be seen. All I know is it that it would be deserved, as us Southampton fans appreciate the job done by Adkins and his squad this season.

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Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness. Martin Luther King Jr. said that, and it is perhaps a quote that many Brighton fans, staff, and even players should have a long, hard think about.

We were met at Brighton’s Withdean ‘stadium’ at the weekend with a vast array of banners, each one aimed at us. The most amusing and, frankly, strange banner highlighted the 4-1 loss to Pompey in 2005, with Brighton becoming the latest team to label us ‘the Scum’.

The “Adkins Diet” apparently consists of “humble pie, egg on face, chip on shoulder, sour grapes”. This is, of course, in reference to Adkins’ offer for Brighton to keep up with us back in November. A molehill of a comment turned into a mountain by Brighton fans.

Photo from www.saintsfc.co.uk

"Oi! Adkins! We hate you 'cos you made one fairly insignificant comment five months ago!"

‘Keeping up’ seemed to be the theme of the day, “Can’t keep up, won’t shut up” the motto. Pre-match music, match programme headlines and the banners all highlighted this theme, as the Brighton faithful seemed to place antagonising us fans and Nigel ‘Antichrist’ Adkins above celebrating their deserved promotion and enjoying their penultimate game at the Withdean.

Brighton, unbeaten at home all season until yesterday, were deservedly crowned champions last week. Gus Poyet deserves credit for his side’s success, who are aiming for the impressive 100 point season. However, Poyet seems ungracious in defeat, and amidst rumours he refused to shake Adkins’ hand, he has appeared bitter in the wake of the dramatic 2-1 defeat to a superior Saints side.

Whilst he did admit that Saints were the better side on the day, he was quick to highlight our apparent likeness to Dagenham & Redbridge. A bit random, you might ask, but Southampton’s supposed hoof-ball is, according to Poyet, far inferior to his side’s attractive, flowing football.

“With all respect to both teams, they play the same kind of football as Dagenham & Redbridge. They only defend, they go Lambert.

If you give to Dagenham & Redbridge Barnard and Lambert I can say to you that Dagenham will be top six.”

I’m no expert, but I’m sure Poyet has not been at the majority of Southampton’s games this season. I have. I’ve been impressed with the passing game that Adkins has installed into the team, the way we spread the ball about. Of course, Lambert is a target man, and so he should be utilised, but to say we are one-trick-pony team who rely heavily on long-ball tactics to score goals is ridiculous.

Lallana and Chamberlain have each contributed seven and eight goals respectively from wide positions, Jose Fonte has five from centre defence, surely not a sign of a team who only play long balls for 90 minutes.

More gracious managers who have been defeated by Southampton have been quick to praise our style of passing football, so where Poyet has got this claim from remains to be seen.

There was only one team that played football yesterday, and it wasn’t Poyet’s. In fact, our passing nearly led to our downfall when Jaidi tried just one more pass – but it fell to Barnes who slotted it past Kelvin Davis. We knocked the ball about well, combining cross-field sweeping passes with short passes, and it was effective in working our way into Brighton’s half but we were ultimately let down by our final product.

That was up until the dying moments, of course. The two late goals from David Connolly and Jose Fonte were massively important in our push to follow Brighton into the Championship. It keeps the race for the final automatic spot in our hands, and our fellow challengers Huddersfield travel to Brighton next weekend. I hope the Seagulls fan outside the Withdean was just mocking me when he said “We’re gonna let Huddersfield win next weekend”.

Although I wouldn’t be surprised if they let our Northern promotion rivals win just to spite us. Poyet has shown himself to be child-like, his fans pathetic, and his players bitter in storming off gesturing our fans in the process. They’d surely love to to see us miss out on automatic promotion, since they seemed to revel in us not ‘keeping up’ and winning the league.

I’m genuine when I say Brighton deserve to be champions. They’ve been fantastic this season, it’s just a shame they couldn’t celebrate that on Saturday instead of scraping the barrel in a pathetic attempt to wind us up. I guess we silenced them on the pitch though, and that’s what matters. Three points and another win.

Whilst Poyet did say that we have individually better players and on the day deserved to win, he couldn’t help but just have a little dig at us. I think Poyet did succumb to the temptation of bitterness, and it is this that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth on the back of a vital win.

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The run in.

Regrettably, it’s been a while since I posted on here , the last being the 1st of February, which was the day we would beat Exeter 2-1 away from home and stay fourth in League One. With two games in hand on second placed Bournemouth and five points behind them, the table really was tight and there was a feeling that second place could go to any team in that section of the table.

Now, I’m back. The table has changed dramatically since then. Brighton are still top, and Huddersfield are still third, and that’s about all that remains the same as the table over two months ago. Oldham, who were fifth, are now fifteenth. Rochdale, then tenth, now sixth. Bournemouth who sat happily one point below Brighton have now slipped out of the play off area. Southampton have moved up to occupy that second automatic spot, level on points with Huddersfield, but with one game in hand.

The less said about last night the better, going down 2-0 to Rochdale whilst Brighton celebrated promotion is not an ideal scenario, but we are still in a good position to gain promotion, it is still in our hands. Our next game in hand is now massively important, a win last night would have eased the pressure but instead losing has only piled it on.

Our run in to the end of season consists of home games versus Bristol Rovers, Hartlepool and Walsall, and away games against Brighton, Brentford, and Plymouth.

Bristol Rovers have been struggling all season and currently find themselves battling to survive in League One. The bottom of the table is extremely close, and Bristol Rovers will be doing everything they can do get a vital result down at St. Mary’s. However, I think the strength of our side on our home turf will prove to much, and I can see us getting three points.

Hartlepool are safe in their mid-table mediocrity, and I can see a win here.

We play Walsall on the last game of the season and their fate may have already been decided by then. Then again, so might ours. Walsall are certainly no pushovers, I can still see us winning however, we seem to play our best football at St. Mary’s.

Unbeaten at home for the remainder of the season certainly won’t do our promotion push any harm, but we have been far from consistent away from home this campaign. Losses at Walsall, Rochdale, Carlisle and Tranmere have dented our stake for the automatics, but as mentioned, it is still in our hands. Our away form for the last three games will be vital, starting at probable League champions Brighton. Brighton, who haven’t lost at home all season. It’d be nice to see us go and break that record so late in the season but I can only predict a draw here. As for Brentford and Plymouth, well, who can be sure what Saints will do?

Despite this unpredictability when it comes to Southampton away games, we still have won only one less than both Brighton and Huddersfield, of course, having a game in hand on both. It’s a good record, winning 50% of our away matches, and a record that will have to continue if we are to make second place ours.

It is still in our hands. It doesn’t matter what Huddersfield and Peterborough go on to do so long as we win all our remaining games. Although that is fairly unlikely. It’s never that simple with Saints.

Huddersfield’s run in is tricky, away to Charlton and MK Dons, both of whom won’t be pushovers, then home to Dagenham and Redbridge before travelling to Brighton, and then hosting Brentford on the last day. Whilst Huddersfield have been on absolute fire recently, their draw with Peterborough helped Saints, and our fans will be hoping for a couple more Huddersfield draws so long as we can carry on winning.

Peterborough have arguably the easiest run in, hosting Plymouth before travelling to Leyton Orient. They then have Yeovil at home and Rochdale away before finishing the season at Dagenham. With the way Peterborough have been playing recently, you could see them picking up many points against these teams.

For this reason, the run in is going to be extremely close.

I can’t see MK Dons getting the automatic spot, so for me it is between Southampton, Huddersfield and Peterborough. Whilst we currently have the upper hand, just, there are still five, and in our case, six, games to be played, and anything could happen in that time.

I remain positive and optimistic regarding our run in, but it’s never easy with Saints, and I won’t relax until we’re there in the automatic spot, highlighted in red, with a ‘P’ next to our name.

 

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The January Transfer Window.

For many, January is all about getting a bargain in the sales, and it’s no different in the football world. From the moment the transfer window opens on January 1st, until the moment it slams shut (although I’m not sure why it can’t close quietly) at 11pm on January 31st, nearly every manager in British football is trying to secure that bargain, that marquee signing, or that foreign teenage sensation that no-one has ever heard of.

Southampton’s January was plagued by rumours of our very own teenage sensation, Alex Chamberlain, being prized away by considerable bids from the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. One tabloid paper even reported Chamberlain was at the Emirates talking to Arsene Wenger, but it turned out he was in fact on the Southampton team coach on the road to Tranmere. It would turn out to be a very nervy wait to see if we could keep hold of Chamberlain, for us Saints fans, January 31st could not come any sooner…

A massive boost to not only our current campaign, but our future too, was the news that Adam Lallana would sign a new four-and-a-half year contract. Before the window opened, the rumour mill went into overdrive surrounding our star player, whose contract would have ran out in the Summer. Wolves and Birmingham were understood to be on the verge of making a move but the news that Lallana had signed on, in what was understood to have been a bumper deal, reassured fans and delighted club officials.

With Lallana signing on, and Richard Chaplow already turning his loan move into a permanent one, Saints looked to be consolidating the squad, a far cry from the sell, sell, sell policy of previous regimes. Chaplow signed for an undisclosed fee, but it is understood to have been a very small amount. His displays this season have warranted a permanent move, his man of the match display against Manchester United being evidence of this.

Dany N’Guessan was bought in on loan from Leicester City, the strong pacey wideman would provide some depth in our attacking options. Also bought in, on the transfer deadline day, was Scunthorpe’s Jonathan Forte, who had previously worked with Adkins at Glanford Park.

Outward bound, was Jason Puncheon, who went out on loan to Premier League Blackpool. Puncheon is allegedly unhappy at St. Mary’s, and thus has been out on loan at Millwall recently. Since coming back, he has only played once, and that was against Blackpool. He obviously did enough to convice Ian Holloway that a move there would be a good idea. Paul Wotton left for Yeovil, whilst Joseph Mills extended his loan at Doncaster. Long-forgotten about ‘keeper Tommy Forecast has also gone out on loan, to Eastbourne Borough.

As yesterday’s deadline approached, it was looking more and more likely that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be staying. As the clock ticked over to 11.01pm, it was 99% certain he was still a Saints player, until the summer at least. Fantastic news for the club, and in my opinion, fantastic news for Chamberlain. Despite being the most talked about 17 year old in English football, going to a big club would limit his first team opportunities, whereas staying at Saints, where he is already establishing himself as a starter in the first team, will let him develop as a player and gain vital experience.

The main story of the transfer window revolved around Liverpool’s dealings on the deadline day. Fernando Torres, reportedly unhappy at the club, had put in a transfer request, and along came Chelsea with their bottomless war chest of money to put in a £35m which was rejected. However, since Torres had a £50m release fee, Chelsea could exploit this, and Liverpool had no other choice but to accept. The deal was pushed through and Torres had gone from Liverpool to Chelsea in the fourth most expensive transfer in history. To fill the gap left by Torres, Liverpool splashed out £35m on Newcastle’s Andy Carroll and £22.7m on Ajax’ Luis Suarez. Just one month ago, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew had stated Carroll was not for sale. Liverpool had already had at least one bid rejected for the Newcastle star, but it seems the promise of big money had paved the way for the transfer to go ahead, despite some, including Carroll himself, claiming he did not want to leave the club. Luis Suarez’ ability cannot be called into question, having scored 49 goals in 48 games for Ajax last season. Liverpool have certainly filled the gap left by Torres by splashing out over £57m on transfer fees alone. Meanwhile, Newcastle fans have been left without their main goalscorer, and are upset by the fact no-one has been bought in to replace Carroll.

The transfer dealings of the big clubs is nothing short of mindblowing, the amount of money that has been spent this January is incredible considering there is supposed to be a recession happening. Government cuts certainly do not worry Premier League clubs who spend £35m on a player who has had one good season in the Championship and a decent half-season in the Premier League. There is no questioning Carroll’s potential, but it is a massive amount of money.

Back in Southampton, the transfer dealings have satisfied the majority of the St. Mary’s faithful, the contract extension of Lallana, the Chaplow bargain, and keeping hold of Chamberlain being massive positives. Gaining N’Guessan and Forte provides strength in depth and can only be considered as a benefit. Now that the rumours have subsided, the money put back in the safe, and the phones put down, Saints can really focus on getting promotion out of this league. Bring it on.

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Match Report: Southampton v Manchester United.

I’ve never done a match report before, and since I haven’t posted on here in some time, I thought I’d give it a go.

Whenever Southampton go head to head with Manchester United in the FA Cup you are always going to hear of the famous victory in 1976, a game which evokes fond memories and nostalgia amongst the fans lucky enough to have seen it. The 1976 cup final remains one of the greatest days in our club’s history, a hot summer’s day in which a Division Two side pulled off the unthinkable.

On a much colder day nearly 35 years later, Southampton  lined up against an unbeaten Manchester United side who were flying high at the top of the Premier League. Southampton, rightly considered massive underdogs for the game, walked out in front of a 28,792 crowd at St. Mary’s to applause, the crowd anticipating a good game between two sides with a history of exciting and unpredictable results when playing against each other.

As the clock hit 5.15, the referee, Martin Atkinson, got the game under way. Early on Southampton did not let the underdogs tag reflect their style of play as they pressed United and really took the game to them, creating chances and maintaining a shape and discipline that would not look out of place in the Premier League. United’s defence initially had their work cut out as an attacking Southampton pressured the back line and forced a corner within five minutes. The pressing and tidy football continued as Southampton dominated, but they failed to break the deadlock.

United’s chances seemed to come few and far between, the strike partnership of Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez lacking inspiration in the final third, and their best chance came when an Owen cross lobbed Bialkowski and came back off the far post. Saints, already having had a Dan Harding goal disallowed for offside, came close once again as Guly headed over, when he probably should have done better. From another precision cross from Danny Butterfield, Guly found himself unmarked in the box with only the goalie to beat, but he got under the ball and sent it over the bar, his header looking both unassured and uncontrolled.

Schneiderlin and Chaplow, at the heart of the Southampton midfield, controlled the opening stages of the game with ease, their distribution and control of the game was of such a high standard that it virtually cancelled out the efforts of Scholes, Gibson and Anderson early on. It was clear from the start Adkins had employed an attacking formation, with Guly supporting Lambert and Barnard up front, and Chamberlain and Chaplow providing further attacking support from midfield. United’s tactics seemed to point to quite a narrow formation, one which let Saints’ full backs Butterfield and Harding exploit and get forward into the open space fairly easily. Butterfield was the main architect of several Southampton attacks; his accurate crossing creating chances. Harding also got forward well, coming close on two occasions, one in the first half, where he made a fantastic run, rounding players and skipping past challenges, before his weak shot was saved easily, and another in the second half, where his powerful shot from a tight angle missed the goal by inches.

Saints’ dominance of the first half finally paid dividends as half time approached. Danny Butterfield’s long ball was poorly defended by Jonny Evans, who headed straight into the path of Richard Chaplow. Chaplow, controlling the ball well on his thigh to break into the United box, drove the ball into the top right hand corner, leaving the debutant United ‘keeper Lindegaard with no chance. It was a fantastic strike which sent the Southampton support into jubilant celebration.

Chaploooooooooow!

The half time whistle was blown shortly after, and it was the Southampton fans who entered the break happier. A surprisingly quiet United support would have wondered what had happened in that first 45 minutes, their side had been outplayed by a team two divisions below the for the majority of the half, capping it with a good goal, but it could have been a lot worse for the United support had Saints been more clinical with their finishing.

It was 10 minutes into the second half when Ferguson changed his tactics and made his substitions. With a bench including Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Nani, Ferguson had plenty of game-changing players at his disposal, and change the game they did. The introduction of Giggs and Nani saw United able to use the width effectively for the first time, and it was just a mere seven minutes after the substitution that United levelled the game. Gabriel Obertan, who, during the first half, might as well had stayed at home, put in a cross which deflected straight into the path of Owen, who took his chance well and headed home. Suddenly, you could hear the United fans a bit better.

With the substitutions, the game evened out. United had started to attack more, exploiting our weary legs and fatigue from the heroic efforts of the first half. Southampton did not let the equaliser dampen their fighting spirit, as they won yet another corner. Harding played it short to Chamberlain, who returned the ball with a wonderful back-heel. In a good position, Harding smashed the ball across the face of the goal, with an inward swerve that missed the far post by a matter of inches. It was the closest we’d get for the remainder of the match.

Nani, with all his trickery, diving, cheating and tantrums, kept Butterfield busy for the first time in the match. Adkins bought on Ryan Dickson at 1-1 to try and steady the ship during United’s only decent spell in the game, but it was unfortunate for Dickson, that one of his first touches was to give the ball away to the experienced Giggs, who played an inch perfect ball through to Hernandez. The Little Pea did well whilst stumbling to nudge the ball past a rushing Bialkowski to put United into the lead. United had only played well for ten minutes, but it had cost us dear.

The referee Martin Atkinson also deserves a mention. The referee that infamously gave four minutes of extra time in the Manchester derby, only to allow Owen to grab the winner in the 96th minute. The same referee who decided to give Nani a freekick for tripping over his own feet, and neglecting to book the same player when he threw himself to the ground in the box. Some of his decisions at the weekend were genuinely baffling.

Ferguson’s tactical turn around, plus a little bit of luck, had won the game for United. The Southampton players, whilst obviously feeling disappointed, could hold their heads high at their display.

The final whistle saw a standing ovation in St. Mary’s. Cries of “Southampton ’til I die” applauded the effort given by the Saints players, as it was evident for all to see, their fight and belief had seen them take the game to one of the most successful football teams the world has ever seen. Because I live in Hampshire, I have many Manchester United supporting friends, but each one of them took the time to tell me how well Southampton played. Fans of other clubs who had watched it on television were impressed with the way Adkins’ side played flowing, slick football, and were convinced we would gain promotion this year.

We may have been beaten, but we had done ourselves no shame. The players can be proud of their performance, and the fans can be proud of their football club.

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Saints in the FA Cup.

Two goals in stoppage time saw Southampton force themselves into the second round of the FA Cup at Shrewsbury’s expense on Saturday afternoon. Round two will see Cheltenham Town make the two hour trip down to the South Coast and take on an in-form Saints side who are climbing their way up the League One table. Not many people are expecting Saints to go too far in this year’s competition, it’s not often a League One club does progress to within touching distance of the final, and whilst the FA Cup is famous for giant-killing antics being performed by lower league clubs, it’s not very realistic. However, Southampton do have a history in the competition, the club itself is no stranger to an FA Cup final, but we’ve only lifted the illustrious trophy once, that of course, happening in 1976.

The first time Southampton, then known as Southampton St. Mary’s, reached the first round proper of the FA Cup was back in 1894/95 season. The qualifying stages had been easy for the Southern League side, who scored thirty-one goals in four games leading up to the first round tie in which they faced the Football League’s First Division side Nottingham Forest. In the first qualifying round, Southampton St. Mary’s had beaten Newbury 14-0, which remains to this day Southampton’s biggest ever win. The next game was a 5-2 win against Reading, followed by a 7-3 demolition of Marlow, and then a 5-1 thrashing of Warmley, which put the side in the hat for the first round proper draw. Nottingham Forest were to be our opponents that day, in a game played at the Antelope Ground in front of 7,000 people. Despite the pitch being covered in three inches of snow, the game went ahead, and the superior Forest side beat Southampton 4-1 ending their furthest cup run yet.

Fast-forward just five years, and Southampton, still a relatively new football club, having only been formed fifteen years previously in 1885, had their first taste of an FA Cup final. Still competing outside of the Football League, Southampton were still a non-league side, plying their trade in the Southern League. The Football League’s First Division Everton must have fancied their chances when drawn away to the Saints in the first round proper, but the difference in footballing status was irrelevant on the day, and Southampton, arguably the underdogs, recorded a 3-0 win. Newcastle United, who that season finished fifth in the First Division, were the next team to be humbled by the Saints, when they were thrashed 4-1 in the next round. Beating West Brom, another First Division side 2-1, Southampton progressed to the semi finals of the FA Cup. The semi final pitted the Saints against Millwall Athletic, in a game which ended 0-0. The replay, however, played at Reading’s Elm Park, saw Southampton run out 3-0 winners over their Southern League counterparts, booking them a place in the final against Bury. Interestingly, I recently read that on the day of the final, an English striker, Jack Farrell, who was out of form and not in the goals was picked in the starting eleven. Roddy McLeod, who had been scoring for fun had been dropped. The English members of the squad had wanted an English striker to play, and this had angered the Scottish members. The discontent and bitterness between squad members had shown on the field and it resulted in Bury winning 4-0. How much truth there is in this story I don’t know, but it would seem uncharacteristic for a rampant Saints side to go down so easily in the final.

It was two years later in 1902 when Saints returned to contest the cup. Beating Tottenham Hotspur (albeit in a second replay) and Liverpool, then getting revenge over Bury, Southampton then thrashed Nottingham Forest 3-1 in the semi final to get to their second FA Cup final in 3 seasons. In the final, Saints met Sheffield United. Just under 77,000 people attended the match at Crystal Palace, a game which finished 1-1. The replay attracted an attendance of 33,000 and finished 2-1 to United, and again, Southampton missed out on the famous trophy. We would have to wait another seventy four years before we got our hands on the illustrious cup…

The summer of 1976 is arguably the most famous and the most fondly remembered in Southampton Football Club’s history. Bobby Stoke’s goal in the final, the only goal of the match, struck just seven minutes from time, sent the Southampton fans into dreamland – and the club into the history books. United, who had finished third in the First Division the previous year were favourites for the cup, and underdogs Southampton were a Division Two side who had never won a major trophy. The 1976 triumph remains our only FA Cup success to this day, our next big chance came in 2003.

Bobby Stokes's goal secured Southampton's first and only FA Cup.

Since the 2003 final was only seven years ago, the memories remain vivid. Arsenal were our opponents that day, but we couldn’t reproduce the sort of giant slaying that put us in the headlines back in 1976, as Arsenal overcame us with a 1-0 victory. ‘One nil to the Arsenal’. Pires struck that day, and denied us our second FA Cup at the fourth time of asking. Despite losing, the final holds some fantastic memories for many Saints fans. 12 years old, I was almost heartbroken at the loss.

Aside from finals and glory, there have been some upsets that Saints have been on the wrong end of in recent history, probably most notably was the away trip to Tranmere back in 2001. After a 0-0 draw in Southampton, the teams went head to head at Prenton Park, and the Saints dominated the first half and took a deserved 3-0 lead at the break, although it could have been more. However, the FA Cup being the FA Cup, the game was not over just yet. Paul Rideout, who had ended his time at Southampton ten years previously recorded a magnificent second half hat trick and Tranmere’s winner was scored just a few minutes from time. Whilst it hurts being a Southampton fan on the end of this sort of defeat, you can’t help but think this is what the FA Cup is all about. In 1997, Division 1 Reading beat Saints 3-1 at Elm Park in the third round, another example of a lower league team pulling off the unthinkable against Premier League opposition.

Magic of the Cup: Tranmere celebrate after four second half goals dump Saints out of the FA Cup.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. On our road to Wembley in the 2002/3 season, we thrashed Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 in the third round, a result no one would have expected. Just recently, last season in fact, Southampton were the lower league opposition beating teams in higher leagues once again, when we beat Roy Keane’s Ipswich 2-1, which included that Wayne Thomas wondergoal.

On paper, when Cheltenham come to visit Southampton it should be a victory for the home side. But anything can happen in the cup. We might be dumped out by lower league opposition. We might go on to the final. Anything can happen.

That’s the magic of the FA Cup.

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