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 3-2 Liverpool
20th March 2016
Few could have seen this one coming as Sadio Mané inspired one of the great Saints comebacks with an incredible turnaround against Liverpool.
It looked to be a familiar hard luck story of Southampton starting brightly and being denied a clear penalty only to endure Mersey misery as the visitors raced into a 2-0 lead at the interval.
They had never previously lost a Premier League match after being two up at the break so it looked an impossible task – even more so when Simon Mignolet saved a Mané spot-kick early in the second half.
And then came a remarkable recovery which will live long in the memories of the home fans – assuming they didn’t make the mistake of leaving early!
They might have been forgiven for thinking it was just one of those afternoons where everything went wrong for Ronald Koeman’s men who had gone into the game level on points with the Anfield aces.
First Saints went desperately close when Virgil van Dijk headed just wide and then they were denied what looked a blatant penalty after just eight minutes.
José Fonte’s raking ball out of defence sent Shane Long scampering in behind Dejan Lovren who both clipped and pushed the striker – but made it look like a clumsy collision to enable referee Roger East to wave away the claims.
Almost predictably the visitors made the most of the reprieve to take the lead on 17 minutes – and equally unsurprising was the fact it came from Philippe Coutinho who fired in from almost exactly the same long-range position as he had done the previous season.
Five minutes later it was 2-0 and seemingly game over. Dušan Tadić dallied on the ball and lost possession in the Liverpool area and Saints were stretched as they were caught on the break by Divok Origi down the left. He cut in and found Daniel Sturridge who squeezed a low shot just inside Fraser Forster’s right post.
That looked to be that – and it might well have been if Forster had not made a brilliant block with his feet from Joe Allen on another swift counter-attack moments later.
At the break Koeman sent on Victor Wanyama and Mané, whose red card at Stoke had been rescinded. The pair added vital extra momentum and within five minutes Graziano Pellè had been dragged down by Martin Skrtel as he fired wide. Mané hit the spot-kick well but Mignolet pulled off a fine full-length save to his right.
At that point even the most optimistic Saints fans assumed Jurgen Klopp’s side would close out the game with their usual annoying efficiency, not least because they had won 6-1 at St Mary’s just three months earlier.
But it was Southampton who finished the stronger with Liverpool unable to contain the mercurial Mané, who probably sealed his summer switch to Anfield with his livewire display.
It was a sensational show from the Senegal forward whose pace, direct running and trickery were too much for the visitors’ defence, which became increasingly ragged from the moment the deficit was halved on 64 minutes.
Pellè played the ball through the inside-left channel and Mané darted past Mamadou Sakho to fire home from a tight angle. It was his first goal since netting in the return match at Anfield four and a half months previously.
And it changed the momentum of the match. As Liverpool visibly tired, Saints powered forward with renewed heart and belief, roared on by their fans who sensed something special was happening.
Klopp’s men were clinging on grimly against the onslaught but buckled in the 83rd minute when Steven Davis found Shane Long who laid off for Pellè to curl home a brilliant 20-yard left-foot shot.
Just two minutes and 24 seconds later Saints took the lead. An awful clearance by Mignolet saw James Ward-Prowse wrestle the ball off Skrtel to find Pellè. He again played it through the inside-left channel and Mané whipped low into the far corner on the run.
All three Saints goals were left-foot shots from right-footed players and the turnaround had St Mary’s rocking. The visitors never looked like clawing it back, managing just a feeble shout for a penalty more in hope than real expectation.
It was the first time in their Premier League history that Liverpool had lost after leading by two or more goals at half time, having previously won 112 and drawn three of 115 games.
It lifted Southampton to seventh with the Merseysiders staying stuck in ninth, and proved the perfect way for Koeman to celebrate his 53rd birthday 24 hours later.
He said: “Normally you don’t get this chance. Liverpool will kill you more than they did and it was fantastic to come back and win after being 2-0 down.
“I was so happy for the players. It was a must-win game. I'm proud of the team. We had a great spirit after half time and it was hard to manage it after 45 minutes.
“With the importance of the game, the support of the fans and it being my birthday the following day, this was the best present I could have got.”
Saints: Forster, Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Romeu (Ward-Prowse 69), Clasie (Wanyama 45), S Davis, Long, Tadić (Mané 45), Pellè. Unused subs: Stekelenburg, Yoshida, Cédric, Juanmi.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan, Lovren (Skrtel 45), Sakho, Clyne, Can, Allen (Ojo 87), Lallana, Coutinho, Origi, Sturridge (Benteke 70). Unused subs: Ward, Toure, Henderson, Smith.
Referee: Roger East