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 4-0 Coventry
28th April 2012
Perfect Promotion Party – part two. Saints enjoyed the fiesta feeling so much that they did it again a year later.
Almost exactly 12 months to the day since beating Walsall to confirm their climb to the Championship, Nigel Adkins’s men repeated the feat to reclaim their place at the top table of English football.
The difference this time was the extra edge of tension. A year earlier only defeat and a 17-goal swing could have denied Southampton, who had won 12 of their last 14.
On this occasion, the south-coast side were stuttering slightly during the run-in, winning just two and losing three of their previous six.
They had been in the top two all season but went into this final fixture just two points and three goals better off than West Ham.
In short, nothing less than a win would guarantee a return to the top flight after seven long years in the wilderness.
Reading had already wrapped up the title, which meant this was all about claiming the second promotion place – and the small matter of the £100m revenue that goes with it.
Coventry had been relegated the previous week so this looked to be as favourable a final day fixture as you could wish for. And despite an air of anxiety, home fans were in party mood well before kick-off.
The tension increased when Gary McSheffrey unleashed an angled blast which Kelvin Davis saved well at his near post, but the nerves settled as Saints took the lead after just 16 minutes.
José Fonte turned into Franz Beckenbauer as he strode forward majestically from his own half to the opposition penalty area, aided by an intimidated and retreating backline.
With less at stake he might have tried a shot, but wisely opted to play the ball to Guly do Prado on the right. His pull-back cross found Adam Lallana, whose 18-yard first-time volley was diverted in by the faintest of touches from Billy Sharp.
So much of Southampton’s season had been about momentum, carrying on from League One to win six of their first seven in the Championship. And they never let the pace drop, blowing teams away with their power and passion.
And so it proved again as they showed the killer instinct which had served them so well to double their advantage within three minutes. Danny Fox curled in a corner from the right and the adrenaline-pumped Fonte was left totally unmarked to send a diving header into the roof of the net.
That effectively sealed promotion. Apart from killing Coventry, it also sent a powerful message to West Ham, who now knew their result at home to Hull would be irrelevant, though they did go on to win 2-1.
Back on the south coast it was a promotion party parade. The fans were raising the roof in celebration and the team fed off that, powering forward at every opportunity with their trademark energy, aggression and adventure.
Lallana had a goal-bound shot blocked at close range by debutant Jordan Willis; after the break Rickie Lambert fired just past the angle of far-left post and bar from 20 yards.
Saints were playing irresistible football and it was no surprise when they got a third on 59 minutes to remove any lingering doubts about the outcome.
Again it stemmed from a Fox inswinging corner, this time something of a Dambuster effort which was flicked on by do Prado. Sharp’s shot was blocked but the ball fell for Jos Hooiveld to hook home left footed.
Again, Adkins’s men capitalised and went for the jugular, grabbing a fourth just four minutes later. Substitute Jack Cork played a long diagonal ball from the right, Lambert headed down and Lallana turned it in from a tight angle.
From then on it was simply a case of playing out the remaining third of the game on cruise control. The players focused on enjoying the emotion against a backdrop of red and white flags as fans celebrated a long-awaited return to the top flight, made sweeter by the fact Pompey had been relegated to League One.
It was no more than Saints deserved after dominating the division for so long and the team were rewarded with an end-of-season trip to Las Vegas, just as they had been after winning promotion a year earlier.
Adkins purred: “I am so proud of the players and what they have achieved – and they have done it ahead of schedule. Everyone has worked so hard for this.
“They should savour this moment along with the fans who have been with us all the way. This is a great club and we cannot wait to play in the Premier League. I think we have shown this season we are not just going to make up the numbers!”
Saints: Davis, Butterfield, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox, Guly, Schneiderlin, Hammond (Cork 37), Lallana (Puncheon 83), Sharp (De Ridder 75), Lambert. Subs (not used): Bialkowski, Harding.
Coventry: Murphy, Hussey, Willis (Henderson 72), Cranie, Clarke, Baker, Bigirimana (Jeffers 46), Norwood, Thomas, McSheffrey (Roberts 34), McDonald. Subs (not used): Platt, Dunn.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.