A lot was made of Manchester United’s 6-1 reverse to their arch rivals City at the weekend, and it was the first time the Premier League giants had conceded six goals in a game in fifteen years.
Fifteen years to this very day in fact.
Then Saints manager Graeme Souness had had an indifferent start to the 1996/97 season, but headed into the game on the back of two straight home wins against Middlesbrough and Sunderland. These were the only victories of the season so far though. Both had been impressive, Saints scoring four and three goals against their North East opponents respectively without reply. The new look attacking lineup of Eyal Berkovic, Le Tiss and Egil Ostenstad proving potent.
The visit of the champions was likely to be a different prospect. United themselves came to the Dell having lost their last league game 5-0 at St. James Park, though they did have a midweek victory over Swindon Town inbetween.
Many feared a backlash from United, and the thought of Beckham, Scholes, Cantona et al taking on the likes of Richard Dryden and Alan Neilsen at the back, not to mention unproven new boy Claus Lundekvam was not one for the feint hearted.
Souness made his selections with the attacking prowess of the champions in mind, Jason Dodd, Ulrich Van Gobbel and Simon Charlton, all recognised defenders joined the aforementioned trio in the starting lineup, Matthew Oakley and Berkovic played in the middle, with Le Tissier supporting Ostenstad up front.
Alex Ferguson also named an interesting side, with Cantona the only recognised out and out forward in his lineup.
Having witnessed the 3-1 victory the previous season, I don’t think for a second it crossed my mind that we could win again, let alone what was about to unfold.
It will truly go down as one of the defining moments of the Premier League, and certainly one of the best ever games.
Amongst the furore of the aftermath of the City result at the weekend, it is worth noting, that United went on to retain the title in 1996/97 and by a clear seven points. It also interesting that the only player who could have played in both games fifteen years apart, United talisman Ryan Giggs played in neither.
It wasn’t the first, or last time Saints were a thorn in Ferguson’s side, let’s hope there is more to come….
Southampton:- Beasant, Dodd, Neilson, Dryden, Lundekvam, Van Gobbel, Charlton, Berkovic, Oakley, Le Tissier, Ostenstad Unused Subs:- Potter, Magilton, Watson
Man Utd:- Schmeichel, G. Neville, P. Neville, May, Pallister (Irwin), Keane, Butt (McClair), Scholes, Beckham, Cruyff (Solskjaer), Cantona
When you talk about contentious issues, the best or worst eleven players for any club is probably number one. I was recently asked to write an article on my best Saints Premier League eleven for Shoot magazine and after a fair amount of wrestling and changes I settled on a team. I was lucky in one respect, I only had a window of fifteen years to toy with. My Saints experience started in the Premier League and I am guilty of vainly believing it would always reside there.
Actually after careful consideration, my best Saints Premier League eleven, is my best eleven full stop. It is drawn from a period where we competed with the best, and it is no coincidence that many of those selected made up our 2002/03 side.
The compiling of that team got me thinking, how difficult must it be to pick a side with a much bigger window of players to choose from? My colleague Dan and I couldn’t agree and our time watching Saints is of the same period.
I also thought about my worst eleven. Sadly, as a Saints fan this is much more difficult a prospect. Even in the twenty years of my support, we have been inundated with, for want of a better word. Crap.
So when in need of sensible opinion, broad knowledge and perhaps even an entertaining turn of phrase, I turned to the only resource where all three are commonplace. Twitter. I sought out the best and worst elevens of someone in their 50’s, 40’s and 20’s (Dan and I cover the 30’s), and I got some pretty entertaining responses. No doubt you won’t all agree with them, and as a collective we welcome comment. Opinion makes football what it is.
The rules were simple. You must have seen a player in the flesh to select them and state when you first started attending matches, and that was pretty much it! Everyone has taken their own approach, some have picked best individuals, others have tried to pick the best to fit a system or compliment each other.
“I started following Saints at the start of the 1965/66 season. Remembering my 1st game is simply impossible! However, one of my very early games was the 9-3 drubbing of Wolves which did come early in 1965/66. I have always remembered it was 2-2 after about 5 minutes and that remarkably after we scored on the hour to make it 9-3 there were no more goals. Chivers scored 4, Paine 2, Sydenham 2 and George O’Brien also scored. I think that game probably meant I was hooked for life!”
Peter Shilton – “Genuine world class. Only Niemi comes close.”
Ivan Golac – “The first overseas signing we made I believe. The best attacking full back I have seen.”
Steve Mills – “Class personified, career sadly cut short or I believe he would have played for England.”
Mark Wright – “Took a little while to settle at the Dell, even played at right back. But developed into a top central defender.”
Dave Watson – “Already a seasoned International when he signed, another great Lawrie Mac signing and just ahead of some other top quality centre halves.”
Matthew Le Tissier – “Don’t need to say much, the most skilful player I have seen for us, legend is the right word.”
Alan Ball – “Another player who doesn’t require many words. A true legend of the game, vital in our 1977/78 promotion- another LM master stroke and simply world class.”
Steve Williams – “Oozed quality and formed in Division 2 a partnership with Bally that was exceptional. 1st saw him v Pompey in 1976 on his debut, looked class even then.”
David Armstrong – “Great left sided midfield player who scored a lot of vital goals, in many ways the front 2 are determined by his inclusion ahead of the wing wizard John Sydenham.”
Mick Channon – “Impossible to omit, our leading goalscorer ever, genuine nice guy and of course part of our FA Cup success in 1976. Another who deserves the term legend.”
Marian Pahars – “This was the most difficult decision but Marian is included as I feel he would have combined well with Channon. Keegan was not here long enough I don’t feel, Ron Davies is a super, super sub who could be introduced along with Sydenham and Terry Paine if needs be. Cannot believe strikers like Moran, Boyer and Osgood don’t even make the bench!”
Subs : Antti Niemi, Mark Dennis, Ron Davies, Kevin Keegan, Terry Paine, John Sydenham, Michael Svennson
(gwc – There was a refusal at this point by Chris to justify his selections in this team. They were simply that bad.)
Subs : Sandy Davie, Mark Walters, Tommy Widdrington, Oshor Williams, Tony Pulis
(gwc – No idea who Beaney, Crabbe and Dawtry are? Me either!)
“1968 (I think) Went to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang . Never got in (cinemas had queues and sell outs in those days) Dad took me to see Saints v Coventry instead. Overriding memory – pitch was green, crowd was in colour (had only seen football on b&w tv before that) 0-0 draw (again, I think), at least I don’t remember a goal, or anything else exciting come to that, but I was hooked.”
GK Peter Shilton – “Didn’t have to do a lot, he was so dominant the defence was scared to make a mistake. When they did he was like another one man defensive line all on his own. Still England’s record cap holder (125) should have been much higher but for a job-share arrangement with Ray Clemence. Booze, birds but still simply the best. Crap on Strictly Come Dancing.”
RB Ivan Golac – “First of the modern day foreign imports after we finally got round work permit problems, and possibly still the best value for money foreigner to this day. Took no prisoners in defence, and was even better going forwards . Scored a thunderbolt against WBA from at least 75 yards that their keeper never even saw. Used feigned lack of English to keep himself out of trouble with the ref, was the first foreigner to play in a Wembley final.”
CH Mark Wright – “A very good youngster who got better and better thanks to being paired with and learning from some experienced greats. Looked too frail to be a centre half but had great positional play and perfect timing. Reminiscent of Bobby Moore as, with head up, he would bring the ball out of defence and always look to pass, never hoof . Can still hear the sound his (frail looking) leg made as it snapped in the 86 semi final. Sadly ginger.”
LB Steve Mills – “England international in the making (he played for the Under 23s), it was clear we had unearthed a new star before his career was cruelly cut short after only 60 appearances first by injuries sustained in a car crash and then later developing (and sadly passing away from) leukaemia. Fast, tough tackling, intelligent passer and capable of a quick overlap and getting back again in no time. For younger fans imagine Wayne Bridge but twice as good. Maybe three times.”
LBRBCHRMLMCMRWLWCFS Nick Holmes – “I’d play him just in front of the CH behind the Midfield, put as the positional initials show he played virtually every position for Saints except keeper and never ever let us down. Never received the international recognition he deserved, possibly due to his beard. Seemed a quiet character on the pitch, he simply got on with his job and done it well, very well. It was often said that you only really noticed him if, through injury, he wasn’t there, and you’d be looking for the three players we seemed to be missing. For me this jack-of-all-trades-master-of-all would be the first on every team sheet.”
RW Terry Paine – “Still holds the record for most appearances for the club. Tirelessly hogging the touchline, one of, if not the best crosser of a ball I’ve ever seen. Played in the 66 World Cup squad but picked up an injury so never made the final. Unlike most modern wingers, not afraid to stick a boot, or elbow, in when needed, dropped back into a deeper midfield role as age and differing tactics caught up with him.”
CM Kevin Keegan – “The signing that shocked the football world, it came as big a shock as if we signed Messi today. He didn’t stay long (a couple of seasons) but gave 110% every minute he was on the pitch. Total live-wire, his amazing enthusiasm rubbed off on other players who wouldn’t or couldn’t let their standards drop in his presence. He always struck me as a short player who was a giant on the pitch (the afro may have helped there) Scored the world’s best ever disallowed goal (search YouTube for it) not to mention the goal that took Saints to the top of the league – not our division, THE league. Hard to believe nowadays with not just Saints but football changing so much since then but yes, with him in our team we really were the best side in the country for a while.”
CM David Armstrong – “Just 3 England caps for a player that would walk into today’s national team, he was unfortunate to play in an era when our country had a dearth of mid-fielders. Fantastic box to box player, great at bringing others into the game, making goal after goal for our forwards whilst contributing better than 1 goal in every 4 games himself (a ratio many forwards would be proud of). Added bonus of his head dazzling the opposition under floodlights.”
LW Danny Wallace – “To be fair not a winger as such but was always prepared to hang out wide before bursting inside on a run and terrifying defenders who never knew if he would take the ball past them to their right, left or through their legs. Often utilised in Chris Nicols (unheard of nowadays) 4-2-4 formation he scored a MotD goal of the season with an overhead kick against Liverpool, which I missed, still the one and only time I’ve been for a pee during a game. Added advantage of being able to swap him for brothers Rodney or Ray if he gets tired and no-one will notice.”
CF Ron Davies – “The best header of a ball. Ever. Anywhere. Any time. Benefited from the accuracy of Paine’s crosses but I’m sure he would still have got his head to most balls if it had been my Gran crossing them for him. He scored four headed goals away at Old Trafford. I don’t mean in his career I mean in ONE game and ended up as top scorer in the top division. He, like Ryan Giggs, had the footballing misfortune of being Welsh, depriving him of what would have been a well deserved place on the world stage.”
S Mike Channon – “A striker capable of scoring from anywhere, whether playing through the middle or starting out on the wing* and cutting in. An England regular he played the game with a smile, not least as he “stumbled” over a defenders leg to gain yet another penalty. Scorer of the Greatest Goal Ever® (search YouTube for Greatest Goal Ever®) when against Liverpool he finished off a move consisting of over a thousand passes without them touching the ball before wheeling away giving his trademark windmill arm goal celebration. *Wing positions were often taken up in order to get the racing results , another advantage of the Dell crowds close proximity to the pitch.”
Sub: Matthew Le Tissier – “Famed for his one club loyalty he has probably more individual talent than any of the above but in my opinion all of the above are better team players. Capable of scoring from virtually anywhere in the opponents half, lethal with free kicks and penalties, but starts on the bench as he was prone to disappear for long spells (sometimes as long as 90 minutes especially if it was cold and raining) Selection as sub possibly clouded by my love of being controversial but hey, this is MY team.”
“I refuse to pick a worst XI. After all, good bad or indifferent, they are all Saints and therefore worthy of our support and respect.
Except for David Speedie &Kerry Dixon. They were s***e.”
Tim Flowers – “Best Keeper in England 91-96 unlucky not to get more caps ahead of “Spunky”Seaman. Consistently good for Saints his best performance ,possibly, being in the 92 ZDS Cup Final at Wembley when Saints should have been about 8 down at half time and would have been had it not been for Timmy.”
Ivan Golac – “Quality attacking Right Back who was mysteriously binned for “Oh No” Mick Mills.”
Mark Dennis – “A mental tough tackling left back whose footballing ability would surely have gained England honours had he been the full ticket. Famously lamped by Chris Nicholl at half time and also offered to put all of us up after midweek away games when p****d at an IW supporters dinner.”
Steve Williams – “Classiest Central Midfielder I have witnessed in a Saints shirt. Was that important to the team that they hastily arranged a league game on the Monday before the 84 cup game against Pompey so he could serve a suspension.”
Mark Wright – “Elegant Centre half and token Ginger in my team.”
Micheal Svensson – “Killer was all you wanted in a Centre half,committed, brave and crazy. Massive shame his career was curtailed by injury and it speaks volumes about the man’s character the way he kept trying to come back. Would have been the token Ginger had I not already had one.”
Matthew Le Tissier – “Most skillful footballer I have ever seen.Would have been the laziest had David McGoldrick not turned up some seasons ago. The man is a genius.”
Jimmy Case – “Hardest player I have seen play for Saints and never tried to make a career out of it like some others did (Terry Hurlock). Could also play a bit too and it was funny to watch him steam in every time we played Everton.”
Steve Moran – “Prolific homegrown scorer. Scored 89th minute winner at Fratton in 1984. Say no more.”
David Armstrong -“Put the ball in for the aforemetioned Moran goal. Cultured left foot and token baldy in my team.”
Danny Wallace – “Energetic skillful 3 foot 2 inch winger who was electric on the wing. Scored a magnificent overhead kick against Liverpool but I like to remember his second goal in that game when he out jumped that over critical sour faced Sweaty Hansen to head home at the far stick.”
Dave Beasant – “I haven’t seen many poor Keepers at Saints, Jones had his moments, but “Lurch” gets my vote for general dodginess and that howler when from the corner flag he side footed it straight to John Barnes who couldn’t believe his luck as he stroked the ball into an empty net just hard enough so hapless Dave sprawled into the net after it.”
Lloyd James – “Never saw him have a good game for Saints and at the end of his Saints career was a broken man who regularly passed the ball out of play.”
Olivier Bernard – “A Redknapp signing. Say no more. French, crap.”
Paul Wotton – “Professional footballer my arse. Defensive Midfielder with a complete inability to defend.”
Richard Dryden – “Struggled to get a game in the lower leagues with Bristol City so signed by Saints and played in the Premiership with sadly inevitable results. Remembered for being one of 3 Centre Halves in a defensive line up in a live game @ Newcastle when Saints were 4-0 down inside 15 mins”
Alan Bennett – “Quite simply the slowest and worst Centre Half in the history of the club. Endured the worst Saints debut (home to Palace) since the infamous George Weah’s cousin”
Jermaine Wright – “Inside his head he was a majestic skillful player who could pick a pass from anywhere. To the rest of us he was an overpaid waste of skin who ended up where he belonged playing for Croydon.”
Luis Boa Morte – “More wasted finances on a player who never did it for Saints. Makes my team for trying to beat a man in the 94th minute with Saints 3-2 up against Derby at The Dell. He lost it and no prizes for guessing what happened next. That error cost me a door to my front room after I deposited my right foot through it. And my children were scared of me for weeks afterwards.”
Paul Moody – “I was going to have Dowie in my team before I was reminded of Moody, a Dowie clone but even worse! Unbelievable but true.”
Craig Maskell – “Had 2 spells at Saints, how I don’t know.I can only imagine that he put on a disguise when signing for the second time. Remembered for scoring in the snowy 4-2 win against Liverpool but I defy anybody who remembers another goal scored by him.”
Perry Groves – “Ginger Gooner P**shead who came to Saints for an easy payday. Pulled his shorts up to ridiculous heights. Crap for Saints but his book is a good read.”
“First went to the Dell in 1992. Saints v Arsenal. 2-0 home win. Ian Wright missed a penalty. The only way was up…Oh wait.”
Antti Niemi – “Finland international Niemi, joined the club from Hearts in 2002 and soon established himself as one of the top keepers in the Premier League. Breathtaking shot stopping ability and an ice cool temperament, the flying Finn became a cult hero at St. Mary’s, even smashing a volley against the bar at Fulham.”
Wayne Bridge – “Local boy Bridge was a graduate of the famous Southampton academy, both a competent defender and potent attacker Bridge made his first team debut at 18 and never looked back. He made 151 appearances for Saints and soon broke into Sven Goran Errikkson’s England setup before a big money move to Chelsea.”
Jason Dodd – “Dodd played just shy of 400 games for Saints after signing from non-league Bath City in 1989, the ever dependable full back became part of the furniture in Southampton and is still part of the backroom staff.”
Dean Richards – “Big Deano joined Dave Jones Saints team in 1998 Wolves, the towering centre half was like a brick wall at the back and soon became a fans favourite, being voted as the supporters player of the year in his first season. Sadly passed away this year aged just 36.”
Michael Svensson – “Killer arrived in Southampton from French side Troyes for a fee of £800k in 2002. A fee that would turn out to be an absolute bargain, forming a formidable partnership with Claus Lundekvam (himself unlucky to not make this side) at the back. Svensson was so impressive in the cup final team of 2003 that he was linked with a move to Barcelona, before injury problems blighted his career.”
Chris Marsden – “Something of a journeyman, expectations from Saints fans were low when Marsden joined from Birmingham in 1999. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Marsden provided the engine for a successful Saints midfield, combative and creative, he went on to captain the 2003 cup final side and score a memorable Pele style goal at Ipswich.”
Matthew Le Tissier – “What more needs to be said? Le God as he is known on the South Coast wowed the Southampton faithful for 16 years, despite tempting offers from more glamourous clubs. Simply, the best we ever had. Majestic and mercurial, the man who could turn any game on it’s head in a matter of seconds.”
Ronnie Ekelund – “An odd choice, based on his lack of games maybe, but the impact the Dane had in such a short time at the Dell was massive. A pre-season “gift” from then Barcelona boss Johan Cruyff to old friend Alan Ball in 1994, Ekelund formed an almost telepathic understanding with Le Tissier as Ball’s free flowing side scared many a defence.”
Hassan Kachloul – “Morrocan international Kachloul played 86 games for Saints between 1998 and 2001 after signing from FC Metz on a free transfer and was instrumental in Glenn Hoddle’s successful Saints side. A player that splits opinion among Saints fans, Kachloul was never short of a trick or turn.”
Marian Pahars – “The little Latvian took Saints to heart as much as the supporters did him. Another bargain signing at just £800k from Skonto Riga (where he is now manager), Pahars turned out 137 times for Saints between 1999 and 2006. His love for the club evident is his passionate celebration after a curled wonder strike against the blue few of Pompey, and his tear filled farewell lap of honour.”
James Beattie – “Saints fans may have been disappointed to lose striker Kevin Davies to Blackburn in 1998, but little did they know, that they were getting a much more potent striker as part of the deal. Beattie’s goalscoring exploits tended to come in fits and starts, but when he was hot, he was certainly hot. His partnership with Brett Ormerod, crucial in the 2003 cup run.”
Subs:- Claus Lundekvam, Francis Benali, Matthew Oakley, Carlton Palmer, Egil Ostenstad.
Dave Beasant – “I almost feel guilty, because he was clearly a character and nice bloke. Almost. Too many howlers.”
Olivier Barnard – “I was chuffed when we signed him, probably the biggest disappointment ever. Difficult to express how terrible he was, or indeed how little he cared as we limply dropped out of the top flight.”
Callum Davenport – “Somewhere out there, there is another bloke called Callum Davenport who is really good at football, but has somehow ended up doing a useless, clumsy, lanky blokes job”
Allan Bennett – “Irish international? Crazy. Terrible debut, and it didn’t get much better.”
Darren Kenton – “I literally can’t remember a single moment involving Kenton that wasn’t hapless”
Rory Delap – “Our record signing. We didn’t even utilise the long throw. A utility man. Equally bad in all positions.”
Mark Hughes – “Yeah, yeah, great for everyone else he played for. Poor for us. We were his career blip.”
Simon Gillett – “Couldn’t pass, tackle or shoot, and extremely lightweight. All the trappings of a terrible central midfielder.”
Neil McCann – “Nearly left him out because he attacked Lee Bowyer, but he simply wasn’t very good.”
Paul Moody – “Bloody Hell! Dowie is having shocker today. Wait a minute. That isn’t Dowie, it’s his slightly better looking, but even worse at football teammate”
Ali Dia – “How could I leave him out?”
My Best and Worst Saints XI by Russell Masters age 20
Antti Niemi – “His legendary ability to somehow stop the most unreachable shots made him my first choice ‘keeper whenever I had to go in goal down the park.”
Gareth Bale – “I’ll always remember Bale’s attacking nature whilst playing at left-back for Saints, he was exciting and a hot prospect at the time. His set pieces weren’t too bad either.”
Claus Lundekvam – “Our Claus, in the middle of defence. Need I say more? Solid, long-serving defender, and a hero in my eyes.”
Michael Svensson – “Killer formed a cracking partnership at the back with Lundekvam which stopped some of the Premier League’s best attackers.”
Jason Dodd – “Seemed to be the only good Southampton right back whilst I was growing up, was always in the team and deservedly so.”
Chris Marsden – “Marsden is here purely for THAT goal versus Ipswich. Football genius.”
Matt Le Tissier – “Le God. 433 league appearances, 162 league goals. A Southampton legend, and I agree with Xavi when he said ‘for me, he was sensational’.”
Morgan Schneiderlin – “One of the best central midfielders I’ve seen, his composure and the way he plays is sublime. I was also there for his only Saints goal, away at Bristol Rovers.”
Adam Lallana – “Arguably our best current player, Lallana oozes talent, his skill on the ball is a class above and he is a joy to watch.”
Marian Pahars – “Probably one of my favourite players of all time, Pahars did the business on the highest stage, and his nickname of ‘Latvia’s Michael Owen’ is well deserved. He was fantastic.”
James Beattie – “He was sometimes hit and miss, but when he was hitting, he was top class.”
Tommy Forecast – “On the odd occasion I’ve seen him play, he has never, ever, impressed.”
Lee Molyneux – “Did nothing aside from getting sent off after he joined, and has done nothing since leaving.”
Ollie Lancashire – “He tried, but just could not cut it in a Saints team where he looked increasingly out of his depth.”
Chris Makin – “Came to us at the end of his career and it showed.”
Lloyd James – “Like Lancashire, often looked out of his depth. Had a few good games, but was often poor.”
Luis Boa Morte – “The promising attacking midfielder pretty much flopped during his short spell at Saints.”
Ryan Smith – “He was supposed to be good, but wasn’t. Now plying his trade in the MLS.”
Nigel Quashie – “Four relegations with four different teams, including Saints.”
Leon Best – “Own goal and a missed penalty in a play off semi final is unforgivable.”
Ali Dia – “A couple of years before my time, but he has to be mentioned. Just awful. “
Agustin Delgado – “The £3.5m striker scored one goal in two starts over the course of three years. Then manager Gordon Strachan said there was a yoghurt in his fridge that was more important than Delgado.”
So there we have it, some recurring choices, but also some differences. Thankfully we didn’t have any players feature for a Best and Worst teams, which would have been embarrassing. I am sure some of you will be astounded at players that haven’t made best elevens, and some that have made the worst. Feel free to add your selections in the comments section. No opinion is wrong!
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