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 4-2 Man City
1st May 2016
Don’t let anyone try and kid you that this remarkable result was down to Manchester City fielding a weakened team.
True, Manuel Pellegrini had one eye on a Champions League semi-final second leg at Real Madrid and made eight changes to the line-up which had drawn 0-0 at home to the Spanish giants five days earlier.
But the so-called second string saw him bring in full internationals Raheem Sterling, Samir Nasri, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Wilfried Bony, Fabian Delph and Eliaquim Mangala, as well as Kelechi Iheanacho, who had the best goals-per-minute ratio in the Premier League. And they still had Agüero on the bench!
Yet for all their millions spent on such strength in depth, City could not live with a supercharged Saints side inspired by unplayable hat-trick hero Sadio Mané.
Ronald Koeman’s men were on a roll, powering their way to a sixth-placed finish by winning seven of their last nine, the only defeat coming by a single goal at champions-elect Leicester.
That head of steam, which included an unforgettable 3-2 win over Liverpool, proved too much for City, who were deeply unhappy the game had not been brought forward to give them an additional 24 hours to prepare for the Champions League. #priorities!
If there was a lack of focus, it almost came back to haunt City, who not only lost the second leg 1-0 but then also only scraped into the following season’s competition on goal difference.
Certainly the visiting superstars were unprepared for the intensity and incisive ingenuity of a Southampton side who tore them apart, inspired by Dušan Tadić who was on fire.
Saints set a blistering tempo from the off as Mané had an early shot saved by Joe Hart and Shane Long fired into the side-netting as he broke swiftly on 19 minutes.
City should have gone in front within 60 seconds but Fraser Forster made a superb save to his left to deny Sterling six yards out, and the home side took full advantage.
Cuco Martina knocked the ball down the right for Tadić to hook back from the byline and Long darted in ahead of Nicolas Otamendi to stab in at the near post on 25 minutes.
Saints fans were loving the enterprise, energy and excitement of Koeman’s free-flowing football, which continually pulled the City defenders out of position as they repeatedly hit them on the counter with pace and power.
It was a tactic which paid dividends again just three minutes later when Victor Wanyama brought the ball out of defence and found Tadić on the right. He shaped to cross but spotted Mané sprinting through a lethargic defence. The pass was perfect, the finish exquisite.
Two minutes before the break City were gifted a way back into the game as Martina’s limp attempt at a clearance fell for Iheanacho to nod in from close range.
Many felt City would capitalise on that lifeline in the second half, especially when Iheanacho drew another fine save from Forster – but Saints swiftly restored their two-goal advantage on 53 minutes.
A left-wing corner by Steven Davis was met by a thumping header by Virgil van Dijk. Hart did well to tip onto the bar at close range, but the ball dropped for Mané to force home his second.
Van Dijk went close again when his overhead kick was tipped over as Saints maintained their momentum, sticking to their game plan and ripping City to shreds with swift and deadly breaks.
The tactic paid off again on 67 minutes when van Dijk won the ball in midfield and Tadić became only the fourth player to produce three assists in one Premier League game. His cute through ball allowed Mané to race through the inside-right channel and tuck home at the near post for his hat-trick.
St Mary’s was rocking to the rafters as home fans cheered their side scoring four in successive games for the first time in the Premier League, following on from their 4-2 win at Aston Villa in the previous game.
That scoreline was replicated when City’s only real performer Iheanacho clipped home a superb second from 20 yards 12 minutes from time. The muted celebrations showed there was no real likelihood of a fightback as Saints closed out the game strongly to leapfrog Liverpool into seventh.
While Pellegrini bemoaned his side’s lack of intensity as well as the timing of the fixture, Koeman could not have been happier. He said: “It was a great game – and maybe the best opening 45 minutes by us of the season. We scored some great goals.
“We created so many problems for them. The pace was the key to win the game. Sadio Mané had a big impact on the result. We did an amazing job. We have a team of players who are really motivated and we like to play good football. We are fighting to get into Europe and we have given ourselves a great chance of doing it.”
Saints: Forster, Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Clasie (Romeu 59), S Davis (Ward-Prowse 73), Mané, Tadić (Rodriguez 87), Long. Unused subs: Stekelenburg, Cédric, Yoshida, Austin.
Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Delph (Navas 64), Fernandinho (Demichelis 60), Nasri, Sterling, Iheanacho, Bony. Unused subs: Caballero, Sagna, Clichy, Fernando, Agüero.
Referee: Andre Marriner