After Southampton comfortably dismantle Blackpool they have been rewarded a home tie against Manchester United. The two teams in the past have played each other a total of 109 times where Man U have won 56 times, Saints won 25 times and 28 have been drawn. Even though the teams for the last 6 seasons have been in different divisions and only playing once this game is steeped in history and rivalry with heart brake for both teams.
In the hot summer of 1976 Southampton, who were in the old Division 2 which is now the Championship, got to the FA Cup final against the odds and faced Man U, who were in the old Division 1 which is now the Premiership. Man U were odds on favourites to win the clash after finishing 3rd in the Division 1 that season and Saints missing out on a play off place. During the first half both teams had chances but Man U seemed impossible to brake. Then on the 83rd minute as extra time looked certain Bobby Stokes scored for Southampton. Still to this day Man U fans who remember that day claim it was offside. Saints FA cup victory in 1976 is seen as one of the biggest FA cup upsets in history.
Time past and the season after 1976 FA cup final saw Southampton get promoted to the top flight where they would stay for 27 years. In the early 90’s Man U were a unstoppable force winning the Premiership in 1993 , 1994 and 1996. They had also just brought in brand new youth players such as David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt to the first team. On October 26th 1996 i can remember sitting in the Milton Road stand, The Dell, with my dad, Uncle and cousins eating cold steak and kidney pies and reading about the new signings Saints manager Graeme Souness had recently brought into the club. My dad then asked me what I thought the score would be. I can remember saying 3-0 to Saints and all three goals coming from Matthew Le Tissier. I got one thing right Le Tiss did score 3 that day but the score was 6-3 to Saints instead of 3-0. Man U for seasons to come struggled with playing at The Dell against Saints stating many different excuses.
The seasons past and Man U continued with their success and Saints even got to a FA cup final in 2003. On the final day of the 2004-2005 season Saints were in a dog fight with Crystal Palace and West Brom for survival in the top flight. The final game of the season would decide the fate of the 3 clubs and see who would be joining Norwich in being relegated to the Championship. All Saints had to do was to beat Man U at home. The game started well when a own goal was gifted to the Saints by John O’Shea. Then 9 minutes later Fletcher scored a headed goal. After this Saints looked nervous and Man U came close on several occasions. Even though Draw Saints fans knew this was enough to stay up and a festival atmosphere buzzed around St Marys Stadium. Then in a matter of 60 seconds the party atmosphere switched to pure silence. Crystal Palace scored a equaliser and West Brom went 1-0 up against south coast rivals Portsmouth. But then the killing blow as Van Nistelrooy scored what was to be the winning goal of the afternoon and Saints fans knew only a miracle would save them . This Miracle was never to come and Saints were now to face years of hardship in the lower leagues.
On 29th January 2010 I will be 6500 miles from home and hopefully watching/listening the game from South America remembering the mixture of emotions I have about this fixture. We have seen several upsets already this year and I wonder will this be another or will Man U be marching to the final with little opposition in their way. Either way I hope it’ll be the roller-coaster of emotions that I remember as a kid sat in The Dell and as a personal note I’m saying 3-0 to Saints with Lallana scoring a hat-trick. Lets see if I’m as lucky as 1996…..
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