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Saints V Manchester United ! It Used To Have An Edge !
Friday, 30th Aug 2019 10:30

It used to be the fixture of the season although now it is not the draw it used to be, but in the past it always had an edge to it.

Manchester United arriving at the Dell always used to be a special fixture, during the 1960's - the 1990's the two clubs not only met in the League but seemed to play each other in both cups on a regular basis.

Perhaps initially this was little more than just another game to the then giants of English football and certainly we were nowhere near the top of their list, in April 1974 it mattered to them when perhaps 15,000 invaded the City for a crunch relegation battle, a 1-1 draw helping neither side who were both relegated, it should be noted that it was Saints who became the first victims of three up three down, not United as some pundits like to make out.

But after we beat them in the 1976 FA Cup Final we perhaps became the team outside of the big club rivals that they most wanted to beat. We became a bit of a thorn in their side, always popping up every now and then and tweaking their noses.

The year after we had humiliated them and their cocky winger Gordon Hill at Wembley who had suggested that they only had to turn up to win and win well, we made it hard for them in the competition again taking them to a replay.

But we always had the knack of beating them at the Dell with some classic wins that helped dent their title hopes.

The League Cup replay in November 86 saw us win 4-1 and got their manager Ron Atkinson the sack as yet another manager who failed to win the League for them and we indirectly became the club responsible for their upturn in the 1990's with Alex Ferguson appointed shortly after,.

But we almost got him sacked 3 years later when we faced United at an Old Trafford with a fair few Fergie Out banners, the crowd incensed at the 3rd anniversary of his appointment passing without a trophy, 1-1 on the hour mark saw the protests start to increase however a 2-1 win for United in a game where we missed a plethora of chances and should have won, only silenced the doubters temporarily and bought Alex Ferguson a little time, the press certainly thought if we had won that day Fergie would have been sacked and perhaps Premier League history would have been a little different.

Even as the Scot prospered we kept jumping up and biting him, in 1994/95 United lost the title by one point to Blackburn Rovers, the to point they dropped in a 2-2 draw at the Dell would have made all the difference.

The following season saw the 3-1 win for us in the infamous Grey Shirt game, this really enraged Alex Ferguson and he hated playing us, especially six months later when the next season saw us win 6-3, he didn't change shirts in this one but his face did change colour.

In 1997/98 we made in three straight home wins in a row when Kevin Davies scored early on and then had his season finished minutes later by a bad tackle, however little did Fergie realise we had just finished their season as they lost the title to Arsenal by a single point, even a draw that day would have seen them win it on goal difference.

In 1999/00 United retained their title, but Fergie retained his red face and was joined by goalkeeper Taibi, a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford was notable for perhaps the weakest shot Matthew Le Tissier ever had in his career, luckily the aforementioned Taibi let it squirm under his body, oh how we laughed and so did millions on Match Of The Day that night.

2000-01 saw our last encounter at the Dell in what was it's penultimate League game, in fairness both sides had little to play for, United had already won the title at a canter and Saints were well clear of relegation, Saints took a 2-0 lead within 16 minutes with only Ryan Giggs managing a reply meaning Saints took all three points.

Fixtures at St Mary's just never seemed to have the same edge, United struggled at the Dell and it's confines, it unsettled their manager and in turn their team, they always had a gripe about something, but at St Mary's the modern stadium with the crowd a little back from the pitch suited them and that has lead to only one win for us in 12 League games plus another 3 in the FA Cup.

That win came in 2004 on 31st August, exactly 15 years to the day they visit this weekend when James Beattie scored in the final minute to win the game, our last win at home against them.

Perhaps the worst fixture we have played against them though was the following one after that win, United arrived on the final day with absolutely nothing to play for, Chelsea had won the title weeks before and Everton in 4th place behind them trailed by 16 points and they could not catch Arsenal in 2nd.

We however were fighting for our lives a draw might have been enough, but with rivals West Brom hosting Pompey we knew they would lay down and die and that we had to win to stay up. Indeed that turned out to be the case come the end of the day.

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson saw this as a chance to repay an old score, his team fought like demons from first to last and although a John O'Shea own goal gave us an early lead, but Darren Fletcher soon put the visitors level and then Ruud Van Nistelroy gave them the lead just after the hour.

Sadly our manager seemed to be settling an old score as well, his team selection was bizarre, but with 12 minutes left and us trailing and knowing we needed a win his final substitution was Callum Davenport a defender, we needed all or nothing, we got nothing..

United revelled in sending us down and their players lead by Roy Keane laughed and joked at the distraught Saints fans still sat in the ground, as the visitors warmed down on the pitch.

In the main since then United's visits have been clinical, in 2012/13 we lead 2-1 right up to the final 3 minutes when United scored twice to win, the only other time we have looked like getting a win being a 0-0 draw a couple of years ago and last season when we lead 2-0 only to gift them a couple of goals for the draw.

This fixture truly used to have an edge, whatever the modern Manchester United fan might think in front of his TV screen (possibly in Asia) up to the early part of this century, we were the team that United hated outside of their big rivals such as City, Liverpool and the London clubs, Alex Ferguson perhaps hated us more than your average Pompey fan, he never seemed to remember that he would not have been in the job to start with without us.

Now the modern day Premier League is upon us and every year the big clubs get bigger and the rest of us get smaller in comparison, United fans now have no idea of the kind of edge there was 40 years ago up till perhaps that final game of the season at St Mary's in 2005.

Perhaps for Fergie and United in a scene reminiscent of the final moments of the film The Godfather, that was the day when all old scores where settled and it finally stopped being personal and just became business.

That may be the case, but for us older Saints fans we had some great memories up to that moment and however much they might deny it, United fans of that era loved to beat us, we were the whippersnappers who had no right to even stand on the same pitch as them let alone prevent them winning cup finals and titles.

Photo: Action Images

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