My Favourite Match: Southampton 4-3 Norwich

Next on our list of favourite matches, we're truly "keeping it in the family" as Rob Buckett, cousin of Sam, recalls Southampton v Norwich from the 2004-2005 season. It's better than it sounds, honest.

Inevitably seeing this game in the midst of all the other fantastic matches that will be on the blog, this gem will be under estimated. It shouldn't be. This particular season in the Premier League was arguably one of the most enthralling in terms of exciting games. Arsenal beat Everton 7-0 in typical Gunners fashion, also narrowly beating Spurs in the North London derby 5-4 at White Hart Lane. This particular weekend was to an extent somewhat overlooked as the Champion's League semi-final between Liverpool and Chelsea was to be played out the following week. But for fans of Southampton, Norwich, Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham, only one thing mattered in the next few weeks. Getting points necessary for survival.

At the tender age of nine, I personally had never been more nervous about a football match (barring my first competitive game, a 10-1 loss to Faringdon U'10s). Neither had my Dad. The Saints had struggled all season only winning five games, compared to Norwich’s six. For the first time in my life, I was concerned for the fate of my beloved club. The amount of times my Dad and I shared words, even eye contact, were very few. Nerves seeping through, just like it does for any football fan in this situation.

Home games at St. Marys had been limited in excitement for us that season. Loosing against Mourinho’s frustratingly brilliant Chelsea, drawing to Palace, City and Arsenal brought little excitement, with the exception of David Prutton pushing over Alan Wiley in an act which can only be described as ‘Di Canioesque.’  However, seeing such players as Didier Drogba and Robin Van Persie was a treat compared to what we had been used too: Paul Telfer and Jason Dodd didn’t really compare but the mighty Saints had a decent little team, or so I thought. Kevin Phillips, Jamie Redknapp and most of all Peter Crouch. So against a Norwich team that were as poor, if not poorer than us, we expected a cracking game. And what a cracker it was.

The game started at a high tempo with Norwich taking the lead after three minutes through the on-loan David Bentley, moments later Saints hard man Matt Oakley equalised.

After a shaky start, the following fifteen minutes portrayed the Southampton fans faith in their team, chanting ringing around St. Marys. On the twentieth minute their support was duly rewarded when some good interplay between Kevin Phillips and Jamie Redknapp allowed Peter Crouch the opprtunity to volley home.  The support from the home crowd was visibly encouraging the Saints players to take control of the game, only for them to throw the lead away once again; Norwich playboy Darren Huckerby forcing Danny Higginbotham to put the ball into the back of his own net. Thirty-one minutes played, four goals scored, let's just all calm down. Veteran Graeme Le Saux disagreed with my sentiment minutes later, rifling an unstoppable volley into the roof off the Canaries net past Rob Green, I didn't take it personally. Pleased to have regained the lead, Saints fans headed in for their nerve replenishing pint, only for Leon McKenzie to draw his side level once again via a Dean Ashton cross. Three-three at half-time.

For the first time in my spectating career, my half-time tea and Kit-Kat, were unenjoyable ones. What was to follow could likely define Southampton’s fate in the Premier League and as the teams arrived for the second forty-five, I was more nervous than I'd been before kick off.

Moments back in to the game and tensions grew furthermore on the South coast as Antti Niemi pulled off two world class saves from the efforts of Dean Ashton and Simon Charlton. Groans rang round St. Marys as Henri Camara replaced Graeme Le Saux. A change of shape wasn't the issue; a poor season from the Senegalese striker had left fans acclaiming him with the pace of a cheetah, but the skill of a donkey.  Opportunities came and went for both sides, with neither willing to over commit. However, as the game drew to a close, just as nails were getting to an unbearable level on the finger, the aforementioned Camara rifled in a twenty-five yard strike that whistled into the bottom corner, sending his side four-three up with minutes left to play. Old 'Arry had pulled it out of the bag, and as Southampton saw the game out, the Mule had won it.

If a tear didn’t fall from the long suffering eyes of a Southampton fan on that day, they should be ashamed.

Since that very day, I’ve never been to a more exciting football match, which is probably understandable as I have seen Southampton through to now League One football. To be perfectly honest I wouldn’t have it any other way providing three quarters of the attendance at the Johnstone’s Paint trophy in which we won four-one makes me proud to be a Saint.

Perhaps also worth a mention would be the surprising two-nil win against Blackpool as recently as January this year, in which Ian Holloway labelled the Southampton fans for vocally questioning his club’s Premier League credentials. We may well see who is “having a laugh laughing” at the end of this season, when both clubs could once again face each other in the Championship.

I can concede the fact that the result didn’t provide a trophy, nor a penalty shootout and neither a place in the prestigious history books, but in the circumstances it left my Dad and I in ecstasy. For the first time we believed, believed that we would hold Premier league status for at least one more year.

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