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 3-1 Walsall
7th May 2011
This was pretty much the perfect promotion party.
For once the final day meant no nail-biting tension, no nervous following of other scorelines, not even a slight possibility of heartbreak.
Only the most pedantic and pessimistic might have argued otherwise but Saints knew they had already guaranteed their return to the Championship even before kick-off.
The hard work had been done with a memorable 3-1 win at Plymouth five days earlier. With a vastly superior goal difference over promotion rivals Huddersfield, Nigel Adkins’ men went into the last day of the season knowing it would take an almost impossible 17-goal swing to deny them.
After winning 12 of their previous 14 matches, Saints were never going to suffer that kind of unprecedented collapse in front of a capacity crowd of 31,653.
The title was out of reach but with promotion secure, there was a real air of excitement in the run-up to this final fixture with home fans literally dancing and bouncing their way to St Mary’s.
The only anxiety in the capacity crowd came from the away section with Walsall still sweating on survival – at least until news filtered through that Dagenham and Redbridge were being thumped at Peterborough.
A crushing 5-0 defeat meant the Saddlers survived by one point, allowing both sets of supporters to party together, creating an unforgettable joyous occasion.
It was a carnival atmosphere as the home side took the field for hopefully the last time in League One. The stadium was awash with red and white flags and balloons; the noise was deafening, the mood as much one of renewed hope as celebration.
The team fed off that energy as well as the freedom of knowing it was already mission accomplished. They ripped into Dean Smith’s team from the off.
Guly do Prado had a rasping 25-yard drive tipped over from the right corner of the area and was then denied at close range by goalkeeper Jimmy Walker with Dean Hammond also firing just over.
If there was any lingering doubt about the second promotion place, it vanished on 26 minutes when Guly grabbed his 11th goal of the season. Morgan Schneiderlin marked his return from a two-month lay-off with a smart interception to find David Connolly.
He laid the ball right to the Brazilian, who checked inside and fired left-footed just inside the far left post to spark wild celebrations.
And just in case any long-suffering diehard doom merchants were still not relaxed, Saints doubled their lead just two minutes later. This time Adam Lallana laid the ball off to Connolly to the left of goal. He jinked inside and fired just inside the near post.
Hammond’s angled blast was kept out by a flying save and then Andy Butler sent a diving header just wide before Julian Gray scored a superb solo goal on the stroke of half-time, cutting in from the left to hit a terrific 20-yard shot just inside the right post of Kelvin Davis.
The goal fired the visitors, who came out after the break with renewed intensity and heart to dominate the game as Southampton took their foot off the pedal – at least until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a welcome return from injury off the bench.
His first touch saw him hit the far post with a wicked curling shot from the right corner of the area. From the rebound, Lallana set up Connolly who somehow sliced wide with the goal at his mercy.
A young smouldering Will Grigg was yet to catch fire but hit a scorcher against the woodwork before Oxlade-Chamberlain said farewell in style on 68 minutes. Rickie Lambert found the winger in space on the right and he cut in to curl a superb left-foot shot just inside the far post for his final league goal for the club.
By that point, Walsall knew they were safe and Saints were absolutely certain of going up with Huddersfield being held 4-4 at home by Brentford.
It meant the rest of the game was party time! It is rare for both sets of fans to go home happy but at full time, Saints fans’ deafening chorus of “We are going up!” was matched by the away section singing: “We are staying up!”.
The final whistle signalled the inevitable mass pitch invasion as fans celebrated a return to the Championship after two years in League One, little knowing there was even better to come.
Saints: Davis, Richardson, Fonte, Jaïdi, Dickson (Harding77), Guly do Prado (Oxlade-Chamberlain 58), Schneiderlin (Chaplow 71), Hammond, Lallana, Connolly, Lambert. Unused subs: Bialkowski, Forte, Martin, Seaborne.
Walsall: Walker, Butler, Lancashire, Taundry, Williams, Cook (Ledesma 60) Gray, Laird, Richards, Macken (Byfield 71), Gbarssin (Grigg 35). Unused subs: Bevan, Westlake, Smith, Nicholls.
Referee: Graham Scott.