On This Day In History - 16th May 1999 Safety Secured
Saturday, 16th May 2020 13:00
Two wins in a row had dragged Saints out of the bottom three going into the final game of the 1998/99 season, but it was still going down to the last day and only a win against Everton at the Dell would guarantee safety.
By the final day of the season in 1999 there was a lot to be decided on the final day, at the top Arsenal started 1 point behind leaders Manchester United and at the bottom Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers who had looked safe when they went 3-1 up at the Dell a month earlier had disintegrated on that day and did so again and were already down and the third and final place was between Saints and Charlton Athletic.
Saints had 38 points and a goal difference of -29 whilst Charlton were 2 points behind but with a goal difference of only -14, the task, the task was clear if we won we stayed up whatever Charlton did, whereas if they one and we only drew they would stay up on goal difference.
We were an in form team, but it couldn't be ignored that this form was a rare patch of brilliance, at the start of the day we had won only 7 games all season, two of them had been the last two.
So it was going to be the usual one eye on the pitch and the other along with an ear to the transistors and phones.
Our opponents Everton were not much better off than us on 43 points, but they were safe and had nothing to play for, Charlton hosted Sheffield Wednesday only 3 points ahead of Everton, so it was an evenly matched day.
Saints were favourites but the fans nerves were jangling, there was a theme tune to the past couple of weeks and that was the Great Escape and that rung out around the ground.
Before the game James Beattie was given the player of the year award, it said a lot about our season in that he with 5 goals he wasn't quite the leading scorer, that was Mathew Le Tissier with 6.
The nerves were settled early on Marian Pahars running on to a James Beattie pass to fire home on 24 minutes, that meant that it would now take at least two goals to send us down, one for Charlton, one for Everton, so more in our favour than at kick off.
Half time came with no change in score at either the Dell or the Valley where Sheffield Wednesday were holding Charlton.
But it was still on a knife edge and things could change swiftly, on 68 minutes the roof went off the Dell when the little Latvian scored again with a low diving header to make it 2-0.
This was now looking good, with 20 minutes left it needed at least three goals to send us down, two for the Toffee's to force a draw and Charlton had to score even if we lost.
The Great Escape theme rung out in the sun with every minute ticking away and no news of a Charlton goal, what had seemed an ipossible dream only a few weeks ago was looking a reality.
Then came news from South East London, with 10 minutes Sheffield Wednesday had gone into the Valley and had scored, Charlton's hope of safety was now on the skids.
It would now take four goals in 10 minutes to send us down, surely even we could not be that unlucky, news that Wednesday had a man sent off with 7 minutes left jangled the nerves a bit, but not enough to stop the noise as the Saints fans roared their team home in the final minutes, to be fair we never looked like losing at any point in this game, but we didn't tempt fate till the final minutes.
The end of the game signalled much celebrating, even the tannoy system blared out the Great Escape as the team did the lap of honour.
A look at the table from this season showed that we were 5 points clear of the drop zone, anyone who was there would tell you that it was close, very close and with three games left we looked down, it was truly a Great Escape as many of the T shirts emblazoned out.
Photo: Action Images
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