Built on Saints
FIVE TIMES SAINTS BROKE NEW GROUND
5. Saints hit eight past sorry Sunderland
Southampton were as close to perfect as you can get as St Mary’s witnessed a piece of history in October 2014. Sunderland may have been architects of their own downfall, scoring three of the goals themselves, but it was Saints’ enterprising attacking play that left the home crowd in awe with a statement win that underlined the team’s European ambitions. Graziano Pellè scored twice, while Jack Cork, Dušan Tadić and Victor Wanyama were also on target, as Tadić equalled a Premier League record with four assists. The 8-0 victory was the club’s biggest win in 93 years, and a record top-flight success. “I am a little bit in shock,” said manager Ronald Koeman. “We played great football, scored great goals and most important was that we had the spirit until the last second of the game.”
4. Adkins replaced by unknown Pochettino
After back-to-promotions from League One, Saints were living the dream back in the Premier League, and had their heads above water at the midpoint in the season – still with many of the players that were with them in the third tier. But the club had loftier ambitions than simply staying up, and bravely parted company with popular boss Nigel Adkins, who was replaced by an unknown Argentinian with limited managerial experience in Spain. Saints’ faith was rewarded, as Mauricio Pochettino arrived and soon forged a reputation as a world-class manager, establishing Saints as a top-10 side with an exciting brand of football that was later built on by Ronald Koeman, who led the team into Europe within two and a half years of Adkins’s surprise departure.
3. Saints’ scouting becomes the envy of Europe
Whilst Southampton have consistently developed talent throughout the club’s proud history, Saints’ recruitment peaked in the mid-2010s with a glut of spectacular signings. When manager Mauricio Pochettino departed in summer 2014, a number of key players also left for pastures new, casting doubt over whether new boss Ronald Koeman had the tools to build on Pochettino’s eighth-place finish. But Saints had been silently working behind the scenes to get ahead of their rivals in the transfer market, revolutionising their scouting network to replace established stars with lesser-known alternatives who ultimately proved even more successful. Dušan Tadić, Graziano Pellè, Fraser Forster, Shane Long, Sadio Mané, Ryan Bertrand and Toby Alderweireld all arrived that summer, followed by Oriol Romeu and Virgil van Dijk, amongst others, 12 months later. This new-look squad finished in the European spots two seasons running, as the magic of the black box – Saints’ extensive database of video clips, statistical analysis and character assessments – came to light.
2. Mané scores Premier League’s fastest hat-trick
Saints’ tendency to rewrite history sees them occupy a number of individual landmarks in the Premier League record books. Matt Le Tissier was the first midfielder to 100 Premier League goals; James Ward-Prowse the first player in his position to play every minute of every game in two consecutive seasons; Shane Long struck the fastest ever goal in just 7.69 seconds. But it is Sadio Mané’s remarkable hat-trick, scored in two minutes and 56 seconds, that makes our countdown. The winger cemented his status as a star in the making with the quick-fire treble in a 6-1 rout of Aston Villa in 2015, smashing the previous record that stood for 21 years. The first owed much to his persistence, converting the rebound after his initial shot was saved; the second down to opportunism, seizing on a loose ball in the box; the third underlined the finishing prowess that saw the Senegalese win a Premier League Golden Boot four years later.
1. Topping the Premier League for the first time
Southampton’s identity is built on defying the odds: a club that not only survives in the top flight up against teams from bigger cities with bigger budgets, but thrives, and regularly prove themselves capable of beating the best. Four consecutive top-eight finishes between 2014 and 2017 represented outstanding success – flirting with the Champions League even more so – but one position Saints had never occupied in the Premier League era was the top of the tree. That day would come under the lights at St Mary’s on Friday 6th November 2020, as Saints scored early and late to run out deserved 2-0 winners over Newcastle – their fifth victory in six matches. In doing so, the club hit the top-flight summit for the first time since 1988 – that’s 32 years of waiting for our loyal supporters, who could finally bask in the glory of being England’s top dogs. OK, it would’ve been nice to stay a little longer… but it was nice while it lasted, right?