Top Fives: Great escapes

By SFC Media time Fri 08 May History
Photo by Action Images | Marian Pahars

In our latest countdown, we celebrate five times Southampton defied the odds to stay in the Premier League...

5. Clean sheets key

Saints kept their heads above water for most of the 1995/96 campaign, but a disastrous run of one win in 14 matches left Dave Merrington’s side two points adrift of safety with nine games to go. A crucial early goal from Jason Dodd was enough to leapfrog Coventry and get back to winning ways, before Matt Le Tissier’s late penalty saw off reigning champions Blackburn at The Dell. It was not all plain sailing in between, but the infamous first-half blitz of Manchester United at The Dell, in which the visitors changed their kit at the interval, was another major boost. Saints headed to bottom club Bolton on the penultimate weekend of the season, where Le Tissier’s first-half strike secured a critical victory that condemned the hosts to relegation. Tied on 37 points with Coventry and Manchester City going into the final day, Saints survived when all three teams drew, as back-to-back clean sheets extended the club’s top-flight stay and sent Alan Ball’s City down.

4. Hughes saves Saints 

Saints turned to former player Mark Hughes for inspiration in 2017/18, a vastly experienced manager who had overseen more than 400 top-flight matches from the dugout. Two points adrift of safety with eight games left, Hughes lost his first three, culminating in a 3-2 home defeat to Chelsea in which Saints blew a two-goal lead. Now five points behind Swansea with five games to go, Hughes got his first point on the board at Leicester before breaking a five-month home hoodoo courtesy of Dušan Tadić’s brace against Bournemouth. An agonising draw at Everton, in which the hosts equalised deep into stoppage time, sent Saints to south Wales needing to win, given fixtures on the final day strongly favoured the Swans. Step forward Manolo Gabbiadini, a second-half substitute who pounced in the 72nd minute to snatch victory, meaning Saints just had to avoid a significant goal swing against runaway champions Man City on the final day. Mission accomplished. 

3. Ball masterminds entertaining escape

Matt Le Tissier ranks Saints’ survival surge in 1993/94 as the club’s greatest achievement of his distinguished career, such was the predicament when Alan Ball took over as manager in January. Saints had occupied the relegation places for most of the season, but three wins in Ball’s first four games at the helm restored the team’s confidence, with Le Tissier in the form of his life. However, a seven-match winless run left Saints four points adrift as they headed to Norwich in early April. Cue a remarkable revival from 3-1 down, as Ken Monkou headed a last-gasp winner in a 5-4 thriller. Further victories over Blackburn and Aston Villa boosted Saints’ chances, but a result was still needed on the final day at West Ham to be sure of survival. Le Tissier scored two and set up the other, as Saints took their tally to 15 goals in their last six games to stay up in style. 

2. Souness’s magnificent seven

This was another season in which Saints had occupied a place in the bottom three for virtually all of it, only to time their charge to perfection to get the job done. Despite a four-match unbeaten run, back-to-back defeats against Arsenal and Chelsea left Graeme Souness’s men rock bottom with eight games to go. Having won just six of 30 games at that point, Saints somehow strung together a seven-match unbeaten run to defy the odds. Mickey Evans, a surprise signing from Plymouth, scored twice in a crucial win at Nottingham Forest en route to claiming the Premier League Player of the Month award for April, while Egil Østenstad netted the only goal against fellow strugglers Sunderland. After Robbie Slater and Le Tissier scored to see off Blackburn, Saints could afford their run to end at Villa Park on the final day, and still survive at Sunderland’s expense.

1. Late revival rescues Saints

For much of the 1998/99 campaign, the only relegation talking point on everyone’s lips was which two teams would be joining Saints in the First Division. Dave Jones’s side lost all of their first five games, conceding 16 goals, and did not register a victory until October 24th. Saints were already six points adrift before that win, which arrived against Coventry, the team directly above them. Off the bottom by the turn of the year, Saints won three of their first five matches of 1999 to close the gap on Blackburn in 17th, but did lose 7-1 at Liverpool during that spell. Trailing 3-1 to Rovers, who had a game in hand, Saints were in grave danger in mid-April, but Marian Pahars rescued a point with a late header on his home debut, and Saints never looked back. After another draw, at Derby, Saints won their last three games, culminating in a Pahars brace on the final day against Everton to complete the greatest of great escapes.


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