To celebrate the Latvian's 45th birthday, we remember Marian Pahars and his finest contributions in a Southampton shirt...
After his late cameo in 1998/99 helped Saints defy the odds and stay in the Premier League, Pahars was feeling at home in his first full season in England. This was his fifth goal in his eighth league appearance of the new campaign, and it was clear confidence was coursing through the little Latvian as he let fly from optimistic range. Saints had only just fallen behind to Derby in the first half at The Dell, but straight from kick-off Pahars’s shot in anger levelled the scores. Collecting a knockdown 30 yards from goal, he shifted the ball on to his left foot and rifled an unstoppable strike that rose all the way into the top corner for an instant equaliser.
When his 2002/03 season was cut drastically short by an ankle injury that forced him to miss the FA Cup final, Pahars was sidelined for over a year. Five games into his comeback, Saints hosted newly-promoted Portsmouth at St Mary’s, and took a first-half lead when Jason Dodd’s left-wing corner sailed all the way into the net. Midway through the second period, Pahars scored his first goal in 15 months in memorable style to give Saints breathing space. Receiving possession in the inside-left position, he darted between two blue shirts and curled an inch-perfect right-footed shot into the far corner, before wheeling away in an emotional celebration. James Beattie added a late third, and Saints had derby bragging rights again.
This sublime solo effort came just a week before his bolt from the blue against Derby, underlining the form Pahars was in before injury struck. Saints were rank outsiders at Old Trafford against a Manchester United side who had won the Treble, but their diminutive marksman proved he was no respecter of reputation when he embarrassed imposing Dutch defender Jaap Stam with a brilliant nutmeg, before calmly slotting the ball past Massimo Taibi in the United goal. Taibi’s day would get worse when he allowed a weak Matt Le Tissier shot to squirm between his legs, before Pahars set up Le Tissier for his second, as Saints left more than satisfied with a 3-3 draw.
With five games left in the season, Saints looked in a perilous position when they hosted Blackburn at The Dell. When Rovers raced into a 3-1 lead, Dave Jones’s team were staring down the barrel of relegation, but Mark Hughes reduced the deficit to give the hosts hope. Enter Pahars for his home debut with 12 minutes to go as Jones craved some extra impetus. Seven minutes later, the Saints fans had a new hero when Beattie headed across goal and the little-known Latvian headed his first goal for the club, back across goalkeeper John Filan to rescue a point. It was a goal of massive significance in the survival race, as Saints ended the season unbeaten to stay up.
Four weeks later was Saints’ date with destiny. After back-to-back wins over Leicester and Wimbledon, Jones’s men knew another victory against Everton would secure survival. It was Pahars who would be the hero, scoring either side of half time as Saints completed a great escape that seemed so unlikely when he first set foot inside The Dell. In the 24th minute, he latched on to a fine flick-on from Beattie, steadied himself and lashed a left-footed shot past Norwegian keeper Thomas Myhre to make the breakthrough. With Everton chasing the game, Saints launched a counter-attack when Chris Marsden found Beattie on the right, whose low cross was converted by a spectacular diving header at the near post by the flying figure of Pahars, who had written his name into Southampton folklore.