There’s something about Southampton that’s always struck a chord with me. Not really sure why.
It could be something as daft as their 1976 FA Cup Final kit being similar to City’s of that same period (I was a very impressionable schoolboy…) or perhaps it’s the sublime memory of Bobby Stokes’ goal in that same game, and the angst it caused a dour, gum-chewing, Scottish, Manchester United manager.
Equally it could be I’ve always perceived them to be a club similar in stature to Norwich; a club often on the fringes, but never considered quite ‘big’ enough to penetrate the cartel at the top of the English game. A club considered unfashionable – just like us – even after swapping the spit-and-sawdust surroundings of The Dell for the spanking brand new ones of the St Mary’s Stadium.
In reality it’s probably a little of all those things.
Whatever the reason, the Saints fall in that unusual – and very small – category of clubs who have done little or nothing that rankles with me. A category that also includes Blackpool and…….… Southampton.
Like I said… a very small and elite group.
The flip side is a category rather larger in number and, in addition to the obvious incumbents – ‘that lot’, Wolves, Leeds etc – always contains a few guest teams, based on recent events. Step forward West Ham, QPR, Aston Villa and Stoke.
But back to Southampton… the only obvious aberration I can recall occurring in deepest Hampshire was that brief, ill-judged flirtation in the mid-noughties with the media darling that is ‘Arry. To their credit it was only a brief one before good old ‘H’ was shifted back along the south coast to wreak more havoc.
Of course their copybook has been blotted a little of late by their owners’ rather less-than-gracious treatment of Nigel Adkins – two consecutive promotions clearly not good enough for them – by replacing him with the non-English speaking Argentinian, Mauricio Pochettino. While the furore that accompanied this odd decision threatened to derail much of Adkins’ good work, results since have at least suggested a modicum of footballing logic. If they survive to wallow in the 2013/14 Premier League riches one suspects their board will consider it a big decision well made.
That Southampton have trodden a similar recent path to City also endears them to me (maybe endear is a little strong) with their two consecutive promotions also coming off the back of an ignominious spell in the third tier. They too have kept faith with some key players along the way; for Grant Holt read Rickie Lambert, for Wes Hoolahan read Adam Lallana.
Putting aside the painful 4-3 defeat at St Mary’s in the equally painful 2004/05 Premier League run-in – I still squirm at the thought of the aforementioned ‘Arry’s post-match air punching – games between the two sides haven’t been without incident or drama.
Most of us of a certain age will recall vividly the FA Cup quarter-final of 1992 when, following a less than inspiring 0-0 draw at The Dell, a jam-packed Carrow Road witnessed arguably its finest ever FA cup tie. With a slim and fresh-faced version of Neil Ruddock giving the visitors a lead, City – who included Robert Fleck and Chris Sutton up front that evening – fought back and equalised through the redoubtable Rob Newman. Upon entering extra-time Saints found themselves down to nine men – Francis Benali and Matt Le Tissier being the ‘culprits’ I believe – only for Ruddock to heroically keep us at bay almost single-handedly.
When City’s winner eventually arrived, it was courtesy of a badly miscued Jerry Goss volley that was somehow diverted goalwards by Sutton; his header seemingly taking an eternity to loop over Tim Flowers and into the net.
The scenes in the old place at the final whistle were never to be forgotten yet still, bizarrely, much of the talk on the triumphant march back across Carrow Bridge that night was around the unbelievable performance of ‘that Ruddock bloke’; a more colossal individual performance on a football pitch one is unlikely to see.
Luckily for Norwich there’ll be no Razor Ruddock facing up to Grant Holt on Saturday (what a battle that would have been) although the current ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ version probably would have been unlikely to have the same impact as the 1992 model.
The 2013 iteration of Saints is a side that plays some decent football, but is scrapping for its very Premier League existence. While the thumping at Old Trafford left the Canaries with a still healthy-looking eight point cushion, defeat at home to QPR –despite enjoying a massive two thirds of the possession – left them just three points and two places above the drop zone.
So… while I detest the phrase six-pointer, with just ten games to go Saturday will have a massive bearing on how both sides approach the run-in.
Let’s just hope that the post-match talk is of a hero clad in yellow rather than one in red – perhaps one who has #heartsahapedhands?
At least we won’t have that ‘Ruddock bloke’ to contend with…
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