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 3-0 Portsmouth
21st December 2003
As Christmas presents go, they don’t come much better than this!
A 3-0 demolition of their local rivals lifted Saints into a Champions League spot for the festive season. And make no mistake, Gordon Strachan’s men were there on merit.
With a vibrant brand of high-intensity attacking football, they blew Pompey away – for the second time in a matter of weeks.
Just 19 days earlier, the sides had met at St Mary’s in the Carling Cup with James Beattie scoring both goals in a 2-0 win, long before the days of squad rotation.
The first south coast derby in seven years was a tense affair with Saints taking the lead on 33 minutes when Brett Ormerod robbed Boris Zivkovic and fed Chris Marsden in space on the left.
His wicked ball across the face of goal was gleefully turned in by Beattie who memorably put a finger to his left ear in front of the suddenly silenced away fans. It was the perfect response to their shameful wrecking of the pre-match minute’s silence for former player, manager and president Ted Bates who had died the previous week aged 85 after 66 years of service to the club.
Despite their control, Southampton only sealed success in the final minute after Beattie cleverly drew a foul from Arjan de Zeeuw who was sent off, leaving the striker to smash home a thumping penalty.
That set up a quick-fire return, the first ever Premiership meeting between the clubs and their first league clash in 16 years. And this time the outcome was even more convincing.
Once again, Saints took the lead on 33 minutes – this time it was a bizarre breakthrough direct from a corner. Jason Dodd curled in a vicious inswinger from the left and the ball hit the far post and flashed into the net off the head of Sebastien Schemmel.
Officially it was logged as an own goal but it would be a brave man who tried to take this moment of glory away from the skipper who, to this day, still claims it!
Strachan’s side had the bit between their teeth and threw bodies in the way to restrict the visitors to a few half chances before giving the scoreline a more realistic look after the break.
If the manager’s pre-match festive refrain had been “All I want for Christmas is my two front men” then both delivered the perfect gift.
The most meaningful came on 67 minutes from Marian Pahars who picked the perfect time to score his first goal in 15 months after a year out with injury.
Marsden won the ball in midfield and found the little Latvian who weaved his way through the inside left channel before curling a precise 20-yard shot just inside the far-right post, his infectious joy lighting up three quarters of the stadium.
The game was now over as a contest, leaving the Saints fans to fully savour the final quarter of this festive fixture in party mood, capped by a last-minute third.
There was no danger of the home side easing off ready for Christmas. Instead, they went for the jugular. Their power and persistence caught Pompey in possession and Chris Baird crossed for Beattie to glance home a diving header.
This third successive league win and their biggest victory of the campaign lifted Southampton to fourth in the table. But Strachan was quick to play down talk of a possible European challenge, saying: “Let’s not kid ourselves, we are a middle of the league club.
“But we are trying to become one of the better middle of the league clubs. It's not the derby which concerns me but the three points – it's huge for a club like us, to pick up nine points from three games is fantastic.”
While Saints fans raised a glass or three and even Strachan said he would enjoy his Christmas tipple, bitter Pompey boss Harry Redknapp opted for a large whine.
Speaking through rose-tinted cheeks he said: “If Southampton are in the top four, the table is upside down!
“We need to get some springs in our goalkeeper's boots – but he didn't have a shot to save in the first half, what did he have to do? At half-time I said that the only way they were going to score another was if we kept giving silly free-kicks away and they keep whipping balls in for their big centre halves or Beattie. Other than that there was little threat.”
Saints, who scored twice in open play, were without the injured trio of Matthew Oakley, Graeme Le Saux and Rory Delap and were also missing Fabrice Fernandes, Darren Kenton and Agustin Delgado (obviously) but Redknapp added: “People can say it's an excuse but I had six of my best 11 missing. If you take six players out of Gordon's team let’s see how they cope.”
Very nicely, thank you.
Saints: Niemi, Dodd, Lundekvam, M Svensson, Higginbotham, Pahars (McCann 80), Telfer, Prutton, Marsden (Baird 90), Beattie, Ormerod (Phillips 81). Unused subs: Jones, A Svensson.
Portsmouth: Wapenaar, Primus, Foxe, Stefanovic, Taylor, Hughes (Yakubu 59), Smertin, Sherwood, Schemmel (Zivkovic 56), Roberts, Sheringham. Unused subs: Srnicek, Burton, Robinson.
Referee: Jeff Winter (Cleveland).