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 4-3 Norwich
30th April 2005
“It’s not the despair. I can stand the despair – it’s the hope!”
That memorable and heart-wrenching line in the film Clockwise was spoken by John Cleese as he raced against time to get to Norwich, ironically.
But it perfectly encapsulated the fans’ feelings after this nail-biting victory. It was the hope which hurt, the hope which ate away at already shredded nerves and the hope which ultimately made the pain all the greater.
Optimism had been in precious short supply going into this clash between these two relegation rivals. Saints had taken just one point from a possible 15 including a horrific heavy defeat in their previous match, along the M27. We shall not speak of this again.
Yet in the space of 90 magical minutes, the mood changed from misery to genuine belief that Southampton could yet again defy the odds to pull off a Great Escape.
This was the classic must-win six-pointer as Harry Redknapp’s men battled with the Canaries, Crystal Palace and West Brom for the sole survival spot.
The mood was one of nervous apprehension, which quickly became agonising despair as the visitors took the lead inside just three minutes.
Leon McKenzie found space to the left of goal and as the Saints defence were drawn to the ball he looped a cross for the untracked David Bentley. It was a tight angle but his volley went in off Antti Niemi at the near post.
But the Saints’ fighting spirit of old soon came to the fore and within four minutes they were level. Nigel Quashie surged forward and found Matt Oakley in space on the right. With everyone expecting a cross, he drilled a precise low first-time shot just inside the far post.
Those two quick-fire strikes set the pattern for a pulsating and at times unbearable rollercoaster of a contest.
Dean Ashton smacked a shot against a post and Rob Green twice saved superbly, first from Jamie Redknapp’s free-kick and then from a Kevin Phillips header, as Saints gradually began to assert themselves.
They took the lead on 20 minutes when Rory Delap’s right-wing cross dropped near the penalty spot. It was met by a first-time volley from Peter Crouch who had been a doubt right until kick-off with a hamstring problem.
Back came Norwich. On the half hour Darren Huckerby’s low ball from the left was turned into his own net by Danny Higginbotham in a desperate attempt to prevent a simple tap-in for Dean Ashton.
By now it was a proper slugfest with both sides trading blows like boxers with their guard down. Eight minutes later Graeme Le Saux got his first goal for the club, controlling Quashie’s clever lay-off on his thigh before firing in a left-foot volley from the edge of the area.
Still there was time for a sixth goal before the break. Two minutes into stoppage time, Green’s long free-kick was flicked on by Ashton and McKenzie stole in to steer home left-footed from 15 yards.
It was breathless stuff which simply could not continue at such a pace. With so much riding on the outcome, both sides tightened up after the interval with Saints bringing on Paul Telfer and Claus Lundekvam in a bid to plug the gaps.
The open abandon of the first half was replaced by much more cagey football, though Quashie and Phillips were kept out by Green and former Saints defender Simon Charlton was denied by a superb save from Niemi.
Just as it looked set for a stalemate which would help neither side, Redknapp’s men gloriously won it at the death. With just two minutes on the clock, Oakley’s touch saw Henri Camara control, turn and shoot in one fluid movement. His 25-yard shot flew past Green to keep Saints alive.
It lifted the roof of St Mary’s as suddenly hope came flooding back, though Redknapp candidly pointed out: “It’s just as well we scored so late. If there had been 10 minutes left, anything could have happened.”
It was only Southampton’s sixth league win of the season and just their 11th in 57 outings since Boxing Day 2003, but it was enough to see them leapfrog the Canaries to move out of the bottom three and put their fate back in their own hands.
Redknapp added: "How would we have been had we been beaten? We'd have been relegated. Finished. But we're still in there scrapping.
"It can all change so quickly. It's all to play for still. I couldn't tell you what it's going to take to stay up. You might need one win, two wins, one win and a draw. I wouldn't like to guess.”
This dramatic victory should have provided a springboard to survival but Saints were only able to draw at relegation rivals Palace and then lost at home to a disinterested Manchester United side a week ahead of their FA Cup final.
It was the hope that hurt.
Saints: Niemi, Delap (Telfer 45), Higginbotham, Jakobsson (Lundekvam 45), Bernard, Oakley, Redknapp, Quashie, Le Saux (Camara 73), Crouch, Phillips. Unused subs: Smith, Ormerod.
Norwich: Green, Helveg, Fleming, Shackell, Drury, Bentley, Francis, Safri, Huckerby (Charlton 69), McKenzie, Ashton (Svensson 82). Unused subs: Holt, Jonson, Ward.
Referee: Graham Poll (Hertfordshire).