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 3-1 Leeds United
6th August 2011
Saints sent out a powerful warning that they meant business on their return to the Championship.
Even the most ardent Southampton supporters were probably expecting a campaign of consolidation at best. With old habits dying hard, many were simply seeking survival – and a home game against Leeds looked to be a daunting opening test.
But Nigel Adkins and his men had other ideas as they romped to their first opening day victory since the 1-0 win at Coventry in 1999 – and their first at home since beating West Ham 4-0 in 1988.
It was not so much the result which mattered but the manner of it as they demolished a Leeds side widely expected to be pushing for promotion.
Momentum matters so much in football and seemingly more than ever in this division, which can be such a slog. And Saints dished out a strong statement of intent from the first whistle.
Forget any thoughts of playing it safe, taking time to bed in and finding their feet; this was a proper onslaught which will have sent shockwaves through the rest of the league.
Having finished the previous campaign with 13 wins and a draw from their final 15 fixtures, Adkins’s side picked up where they left off, playing with exactly the same exciting energy and enthralling enterprise.
They ripped into Leeds from the start, taking just 10 minutes to register their first goal back in the second tier, creating an instant sense of belief that promotion was not just a possibility but even a probability.
That might sound strange after just 10 minutes of the new campaign but that is exactly how it felt as this vibrant, brash young side announced their intentions in emphatic fashion.
Skipper Dean Hammond led the way, latching onto Guly do Prado’s pass and powering forward unchecked before unleashing a powerful 20-yard low left-foot drive just inside the left post. It was his first home goal in almost 18 months since the 5-0 win over Huddersfield in March 2010.
Suddenly St Mary’s was rocking just as it had done during the promotion run-in, and the air of expectation grew even stronger when Saints doubled their lead on 25 minutes.
Rickie Lambert played the ball forward to Adam Lallana in the inside right channel. The prodigious young midfielder showed he was very much at home at the higher level, cutting inside sharply and tying Andy O’Brien in knots before firing across goal and just inside the far post.
Lallana almost had a second but was denied at close range by the legs of goalkeeper Andy Lonergan before turning provider to set up a glorious third on 52 minutes.
He neatly controlled a pass from David Connolly before laying the ball back to the striker who steered a precise finish just inside the far right post.
Richard Chaplow saw a thumping 25-yard drive brilliantly tipped onto his left post by Lonergan at full stretch as Saints went for the jugular against a Leeds side who rarely mounted a serious threat.
Kelvin Davis saved well from Jonathan Howson and Billy Paynter with Ramon Nunez firing narrowly wide from distance but Saints looked set to keep a clean sheet until Aaron Martin was harshly adjudged to have handled in stoppage time. Where was VAR when you needed it?
Max Gradel drilled in the spot-kick but it was only the tiniest blemish on a magnificent return to the Championship as Saints chalked up a new club record seventh successive win, including the previous campaign. It was also their 10th home victory on the spin.
Amid a wave of euphoria around the ground, Adkins was keen to play down expectations saying: “It was a good win but we can’t get carried away. There is still a very long way to go but it is a promising start.”
It was more than that. It set the tone for the whole season. Southampton won six of their first seven – and the intensity never dropped. They maintained that same power, purpose and panache as they stormed through the division for a second successive promotion.
Saints: Davis, Richardson, Fonte, Martin, Harding, Do Prado (Chaplow 63), Cork, Hammond (Schneiderlin 75), Lallana, Lambert, D.Connolly (De Ridder 62). Unused subs: Bialkowski, Butterfield.
Leeds: Lonergan, P.Connolly, Kisnorbo, O'Brien, O'Dea, Gradel, Brown (Paynter 53), Howson, Clayton, Snodgrass (Sam 73), McCormack (Nunez 62). Unused subs: Rachubka, Bromby.
Referee: Kevin Wright.