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 MK Dons
Saturday 2nd April 2011
MK Dons were unable to hold the Forte as Saints staged a remarkable comeback to take a massive step towards the Championship.
Super-sub Jonathan Forte made an immediate and incredible impact after coming off the bench on 63 minutes with his side trailing 2-0 at home to their promotion rivals.
His first two touches were to control and fire home within three minutes of setting foot on the field; his third touch was the equaliser just 60 seconds later to set up a grandstand finale which saw Lee Barnard grab a dramatic winner.
Manager Nigel Adkins described it as the key moment of the season. It may not be an exaggeration to say it was possibly a pivotal point in Southampton’s modern history.
Who knows what might have happened if the side had lost this game and with it their momentum? Failure to secure promotion could have seen the club lose the likes of Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, José Fonte and even Rickie Lambert.
This, then, was a hugely important clash between two sides who had each won four and drawn one of their previous five as they chased down the top two, Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town.
Adkins’s men went into this one trailing the Terriers by five points but with three games in hand – yet knowing they simply could not afford to lose further ground with just 10 matches remaining in a horribly congested run-in.
This was billed as their toughest remaining home fixture and so it proved as the visitors took a shock lead against the run of play after 34 minutes.
The home side had dominated but were rocked when Peter Leven’s superb right-wing corner was met by Gary MacKenzie who got the better of Radhi Jaïdi. His flying header gave Kelvin Davis no chance.
Saints continued their control and pushed hard for the equaliser but were caught on the break seven minutes into the second half. Stephen Gleeson surged through midfield and sprayed the ball to Sam Baldock in the inside-left channel. He took it on and beat Davis at his near post.
With the majority of the stadium stunned, Saints piled forward and were almost caught again as Baldock curled narrowly wide before, thankfully, going off injured.
Desperate measures were called for. Most fans were expecting David Connolly to be thrown into the fray but Adkins opted for a different tact.
He threw on Forte, who had yet to start for Saints and was making only his sixth appearance from the bench. The gamble paid immediate dividends as the pacy striker showed just what the manager had seen in him from their time together at Scunthorpe United.
Forte had been on the pitch barely three minutes when Lambert crossed from the left. The sub chested down and in one sweet move volleyed home from eight yards to breathe new life into the team and the fans.
The atmosphere was electric, now, as Saints went for the jugular and within a minute they were level. Lambert’s raking cross-field ball found Lallana on the left edge of the area and he played in the overlapping Dan Harding. His low centre was pushed out by David Martin straight to the feet of the lurking Forte, who gratefully accepted the gift.
With a quarter of the game remaining and roared on by a deafening crowd, Saints had the bit between their teeth and got their reward in the form of a winner scored 13 minutes from time.
Dean Hammond found Lambert just outside the area. He controlled well and slipped the ball diagonally left to Barnard who lashed home his 12th goal of the season.
With Huddersfield winning 2-0 at Tranmere Rovers to stretch their unbeaten run to 19 matches, this was a vital victory, but it was the manner of it that meant so much. It was the first time Southampton had come from two-down to win since their 3-2 success at Preston on 1st November 2008.
It sent a powerful message to their rivals and provided the momentum for the run-in with Adkins only too aware of its importance.
He said: “There are defining moments in the season and we look at that one now and it’s put us third. Our destiny is still in our hands. We have nine games to go and you saw the emotion of the players. The character is there and we are trying to stay consistent in everything we do.”
As the manager predicted, it proved pivotal. Saints went on to win eight of their last nine… but none were as tough as this.
Saints: Davis; Butterfield (Richardson 72), Fonte, Jaïdi, Harding; Guly (Stephens 66), Hammond, Chaplow (Forte 63), Lallana; Lambert, Barnard. Unused subs: Bialkowski, Martin, Seaborne, Connolly.
MK Dons: Martin; Woodards, Doumbe, MacKenzie, Lewington; Chadwick, Gleeson, Leven, Powell (Ibehre 72); Vine (Clayton 61), Baldock (Marsh-Brown 64). Unused subs: Searle, O'Hanlon, Chicksen, Balanta.
Referee: Mick Russell.