It’s Free-kick Friday! To mark the occasion, we’re delving into the archives to pick out five of the best from Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier…
5. Changing his mind at Coventry
20th October 1990
The earliest free-kick on this list, Le Tissier was just 22 years old when he outfoxed Coventry goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic to help Saints pick up their first away victory of the 1990/91 campaign. This was one of a number of successful set-pieces in which the no. 7 shifted the angle of the shot slightly prior to taking aim, as Jimmy Case and Barry Horne stood over the ball with him. They say never change your mind, but at the last moment that’s exactly what he did – wrong-footing Ogrizovic from 20 yards as if it was a penalty.
Matt said: “We’d worked on this in training. Jimmy Case tapped the ball to Barry Horne, and I completely deceived Steve Ogrizovic by feigning to hit it into his top-left corner. At the last minute, I changed my mind and just clipped it over the wall. Steve didn’t even go for it!”
4. Starting the revival at Newcastle
22nd January 1994
Saints were under new management when they made the long trip to St James’ Park, marooned in the relegation zone where they had spent much of the 1993/94 season prior to Alan Ball’s arrival. It was under the World Cup winner that Le Tissier played the best football of his career, and this was a sign of things to come, as he sealed a fine victory seven minutes from time. Lining up a free-kick left of centre, he curled an unstoppable strike just inside the near post to leave goalkeeper Mike Hooper rooted to the spot.
Matt said: “I think there was a lot of confidence from the bench. I read in Bally’s book that he said, ‘don’t worry, there’s only one result from this free-kick’. It was the perfect start, with it being his first game in charge, and it was the start of the revival that season.”
3. Leaving it late at The Dell
19th December 1994
Ball’s only full season at the helm yielded Saints’ first top-half finish of the Premier League era, inspired by many more moments of Le Tissier magic. One of his timelier interventions came in the televised clash against Aston Villa just before Christmas. After Ray Houghton cancelled out Richard Hall’s opener, Saints were awarded a free-kick, 30 yards from goal, two minutes into stoppage time. The stage was set and Le Tissier duly delivered, as goalkeeper Nigel Spink got fingertips to the ball but could not keep it out. This came just nine days after the goal the great man considers his best ever, away at Blackburn.
Matt said: “I think it was the last minute. I did like playing live on Sky, and I knew the whole thing was set up for me. The ball curled nicely into the corner, but Nigel Spink will look back on it thinking, ‘I should’ve saved that!’ A 2-1 victory for us and a crucial three points.”
2. Final day drama at West Ham
7th May 1994
The game that completed Saints’ great escape under Ball, as once again Le Tissier proved to be the man for the big occasion, scoring two and setting up the other in a 3-3 draw that secured another season of top-flight football on the south coast. The pick of the goals was another trademark free-kick, right on the stroke of half time, to level the scores at 1-1. Positioned a couple of yards outside the penalty area, just left of centre, he opted to go around the wall and beat goalkeeper Ludek Miklosko on his side.
Matt said: “One of the best feelings I ever had was after staying up on the last day of the season when everyone had written us off. I scored a free-kick and a penalty, and set up Neil Maddison for the other goal. That performance under that kind of pressure was about as good as I could’ve done.”
1. A moment of genius against Wimbledon
26th February 1994
Surely one of the greatest ever Premier League free-kicks? Le Tissier never tried this technique before or since, but still enjoyed a one hundred per cent success rate as he got it right when it mattered most. Locked at 0-0 against Wimbledon, the game was in need of inspiration and Le Tissier mixed things up to deadly effect to score the only goal of the game in the 74th minute. Jim Magilton rolled the ball back to him, and Saints’ talisman teed himself up with a little flick before unleashing a perfect dipping volley – over the wall and down into the net. Iconic.
Matt said: “Lew Chatterley had seen it previously and asked me if I would try it in a game. We practised a few in training – some went in and some went way over the crossbar! I wanted to go for a direct shot, but it was Jim Magilton who suggested we try it. Strangely enough, I never tried it again… what was I thinking about?”