Southampton pulled off a major upset as they stunned competition favourites Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup, with a scintillating display at St Mary’s.
Saints advanced to the last four thanks a 2-0 victory, with Sékou Mara bagging his first goal for the club and Moussa Djenepo producing an audacious finish from long range to give Nathan Jones’s side an early lead that they would not relinquish.
It takes the club to within a step of a first major final in six years, having also made it to all the way to Wembley in the same competition in 2017, while the result will also provide a timely boost ahead of a return to a crucial run of league games.
Jones made five changes from the side that had progressed through the third round of the FA Cup a few days earlier, at Crystal Palace, as Kyle Walker-Peters, Djenepo, Ibrahima Diallo, Roméo Lavia and Mara came into the team.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles missed out on the squad, while Romain Perraud, Joe Aribo, Sam Edozie and Ché Adams dropped to the bench. Also among the subs was Croatia international winger Mislav Oršić, following his transfer from Dinamo Zagreb a few days earlier.
He wasn’t the only new signing in attendance at St Mary’s either. Ahead of kick-off, the crowd was introduced to Carlos Alcaraz, only moments after the Argentinean midfielder had completed his move from Racing Club, with the 20-year-old emerging from the tunnel to wave towards supporters in the ground.
If that helped buoy the fans’ mood, they would have been further encouraged by the energy their side showed from the start, as they gave City some real problems in the early stages.
Having survived a scare only a few minutes in, when Ilkay Gündogan dragged a shot wide from 18 yards, Saints were quick to create a couple of their own opportunities.
The best was the first of those, as a loose ball fell to Duje Ćaleta-Car on the edge of the area. He instinctively sent a left-footed snapshot slicing towards the bottom corner, only for a full-stretch Stefan Ortega to get fingertips on it and divert it wide of the post.
Mohammed Salisu then headed at Ortega from a Diallo delivery shortly afterwards, while the lively Djenepo – starting at right wing-back – sent a shot over from distance.
In the 21st minute, Saints threatened again, as a looping ball into the box from Lyanco was controlled well by Mara, who spun and shot, only to see his effort flick off Kyle Walker and go behind.
Mara got his moment two minutes later, though, with a glorious strike for his first Saints goal.
It came via Lyanco, who intercepted a loose City pass on halfway, burst forward down the right and sent a low curling ball into the path of Mara’s angled run, with the Saints forward hammering a fierce shot past Ortega from just inside the box, racing off in delight, arms spread wide, before collapsing to the turf in celebration.
Perhaps it would have been considered a shock lead, but it was certainly no less than Saints deserved.
Then, on 29 minutes, it got even better.
Lavia did well to escape a marker inside his own half, before playing a pass upfield towards Djenepo. After spinning into space as he received the ball, Djenepo drove forward and spotted Ortega off his line, sending a glorious right-footed shot from long range arcing over the City keeper and into the back of the net.
It was Djenepo’s first goal in almost two years and the joy on his face was clear to see as he was mobbed in celebration by his teammates.
No doubt thrilled by his side’s endeavours, Jones would also have been pleased with how Saints then reached half-time in comfortable fashion with their two-goal advantage intact.
His counterpart, Pep Guardiola, was clearly far less satisfied and he made three changes at the break, as Kevin De Bruyne, Nathan Aké and Manuel Akanji were sent on in place of Walker, Sergio Gomez and Cole Palmer.
Guardiola indeed got something of an immediate response, as De Bruyne played Julián Álvarez clear through down the inside-right within a minute of the restart, but he pulled his shot towards the far bottom corner wide.
By the 56th minute, the City boss had decided it was time to send on Erling Haaland, with Jack Grealish being withdrawn.
Jones also made a change at the same point, with Perraud replacing Djenepo, who had picked up a knock. Unsurprisingly, as he made his way around the pitch, Djenepo received a huge ovation from the Saints fans.
Adams and Mohamed Elyounoussi would then be introduced soon after, as Lavia and Mara made way to the adulation of the home supporters.
The string of substitutions continued apace, as City withdrew Kalvin Phillips and sent on Rodri just after the hour mark.
Still, Saints looked as though they had the capability to add to their total, and Adams was close to getting on the end of Walker-Peters’s low ball across the face of goal on 66 minutes.
At the other end, Haaland then had his first sight, but he could only hook well over with his left foot after Phil Foden’s delivery had found him in the area.
The game began to get a little more frantic as it approached the final ten minutes, with Adams seeing an effort chalked off for offside, while Bazunu made a close-range save from a sliding Álvarez, as he stretched to get onto the end of a low Gündogan ball.
With seven minutes left on the clock there was another big cheer from the Saints fans, as Oršić was sent on for his debut, replacing Adam Armstrong.
But perhaps the biggest roar of the night was saved for the full-time whistle, as Southampton celebrated a huge cup win and kept alive their dream of a first piece of major silverware since the 1976 FA Cup.