Built on Saints
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of our much-loved home, Graham Hiley tells the tale of the stadium’s most memorable Southampton victories.
Saints 1-0 Charlton
November 24th 2001
Southampton finally chalked up their first win at St Mary’s with a spell-binding performance – quite literally!
Going into this crunch match, Saints had taken just one point from five attempts at their new home leading to wild talk of a curse with the new stadium supposedly built on an ancient pagan burial site.
Most fans initially shrugged it off as a familiar slow start to the campaign but when the team twice let slip a two-goal lead against Ipswich, even the most steadfast souls began to wonder.
While new manager Gordon Strachan preferred to focus on the football, the local paper wheeled in a white witch to cleanse the site in a bid to ease the troubled spirits, not least of the supporters.
We will never know if it was merely a tacky publicity stunt or whether greater forces came into play – but it was certainly a magical night.
Saints were suddenly a team possessed. Infused with fresh spirit – probably more from Strachan than the Pagan Queen – they tore into Charlton from the start in front of a new record attendance of 31,198.
Strachan had made greater fitness his top priority, focusing on exercise rather than exorcise - and it showed in a dynamic display with all the wizardry coming from his team as they moved off the foot of the table.
The Addicks had scored eight goals in their previous two outings but without leading marksman and future Saint Jason Euell due to a bereavement, they rarely looked like adding to that total.
By contrast, the home side could have had four or five with James Beattie unlucky not to notch a hat-trick. Dean Kiely denied him twice with outstanding saves while Claus Lundekvam also went close.
But then came the moment which seriously tested the structure of the new stadium as the irrepressible Beattie turned Paul Konchesky inside out to sling over a killer cross from the right.
Marian Pahars might have been the shortest player on the park but he more than made up for that with his guile and movement to pull away from Mark Fish and flick home a powerful header.
It was a magnificent moment, sending the fans into raptures and instilling new belief and energy which were to become trademarks of the Strachan era.
After just a couple of weeks in charge, the new boss was already making his mark. Wayne Bridge and Chris Marsden rampaged down the left laying the foundations of their future fruitful foraging.
Matt Oakley looked reborn in the centre of the midfield, rediscovering his verve and panache alongside the elegant Anders Svensson. And Strachan’s Coventry connection of Paul Williams and Paul Telfer added real strength and know-how to shore up the defence.
Even so, it was a nervy finale as Saints clung to their precious advantage. Paul Jones tipped over from Claus Jensen as the clock made painful progress while supporters howled for Dermot Gallagher to blow his whistle.
Their fears seemed well-founded four minutes from time as Charlton defender Steve Brown let fly with a sweet volley which had Jones wrong-footed and helpless.
Time seemed to stand still as fans wondered if the jinx was about to come back to haunt them once again. Incredibly the ball hit the inside of the left post and squirted off at a bizarre angle behind the keeper, across the face of goal and away from the Charlton strikers to safety.
Maybe there was some truth in the lifting of the curse after all – or maybe Saints just deserved it for an electrifying display full of power, passion and pride.
Even Charlton manager Alan Curbishley admitted: "If Gordon had not won three points today, then he would have said this place is cursed. Southampton deserved all three points.
alan curbishleyif six points had been on offer, they would have got them as well.
on southampton's dominance against his charlton side
if six points had been on offer, they would have got them as well."
Predictably, the abrasive Scot gave short shrift to suggestions that the win was in any way down to witchcraft saying: “The performance was above and beyond the call of duty. I thought we might get a scrappy win but I was delighted with the way we played.
“We created chances, defended bravely, looked confident and produced some really good football – and I think that is what the fans want to see.”
It was a night no-one there would ever forget and a fore-runner of so many good times to come. At the sixth attempt, Saints had finally got their first win at St Mary’s – and all of a sudden the place felt like home.
Saints: Jones, Dodd, Williams, Lundekvam, Telfer, Bridge, Oakley, Svensson, Marsden, Pahars (Davies 85), Beattie. Unused subs: Moss, Benali, Delap, Tessem.
Charlton: Kiely, Young, Powell, Brown, Fish, Konchesky (Robinson 65), Stuart (MacDonald 83), Jensen, Kinsella (Parker 71), Bartlett, Johansson. Unusued subs: Ilic, Fortune.
Referee: Dermot Gallagher.