SAINTS are in the middle of their longest mid-season fixture break for more than 22 YEARS.

Not since February 1997 have Saints had to wait three weeks for their next game.

The last 21-day hiatus was bookended by goals from Egil Ostenstad but in back-to-back defeats that left Saints deep in the relegation mire.

Thankfully, they would stay up by a single point.

Saints can at least look forward to their trip to Brighton on the back of the morale-boosting 2-1 win against Tottenham.

Graeme Souness’s side was not so fortunate in 1997, although another glorious defeat at Old Trafford at least gave them some joy to reflect on ahead of their next game against Sheffield Wednesday.

Three days after that defeat at Old Trafford, Leeds won an FA Cup replay at Arsenal to book a fifth-round tie at home to Portsmouth on February 15 - the day Saints were scheduled to visit Elland Road.

There was no shortage of talking points during that mid-season break, which included Bruce Grobbelaar's match-fixing trial and the last of Matt Le Tissier’s eight England appearances, a 1-0 defeat against Italy at Wembley.

Le Tiss was substituted at half-time by Glenn Hoddle and despite scoring a hat-trick for England B a year later he missed out on a place in the 1998 World Cup squad and did not represent his country again.

Daily Echo:

Matt Le Tissier made his eighth and final England appearance during Saints' last three-week break

Saints' last three-week break had pros and cons for Saints full-backs.

Francis Benali is more depressed than anyone as he was banking on that Leeds fixture to complete a five-game ban which is now extended by another week,” reported the Echo’s Graham Hiley.

“But Jason Dodd is delighted because the delay gives him longer to recover from his knee injury with his recovery set back by an operation to remove four wisdom teeth.”

With typical good humour, Dodd said: “I’m delighted the [Leeds] game is off, that’s spot on for me because it means I should be 100 per cent for the next match. But the lads have been joking I need wisdom teeth putting in not taking out!

These were the two games that bookended Saints last fixture-less three weeks.


February 1st 1997

Three days after Saints were knocked out of the League Cup by Stockport County, the Echo headline exclaimed ‘It’s Bold Trafford For Proud Saints’. Graham Hiley reported: “At least this defeat came with honour as Saints salvaged some of the pride shattered by their shock defeat at the hands of Stockport.”

As was the case at Old Trafford earlier this month, Saints took the lead against Manchester United and came very close to snatching a point.

Egil Ostenstad, who netted a hat-trick in the 6-3 win against United at The Dell four months earlier, scored the 11th-minute opener. After running on to Jim Magilton’s pass, he lifted the ball delicately over the advancing Peter Schmeichel.

United equalised in the 18th minute. Cantona’s right-wing corner dropped over Ken Monkou to the unmarked Gary Pallister, who volleyed in from 12 yards.

Maik Taylor saved brilliant from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ryan Giggs, Karel Poborsky and Cantona before the Frenchman slid home the 80th-minute winner at the far post from a Giggs cross.

“They are the best side we have played this season – but at least we beat them on aggregate!” said Saints boss Graeme Souness.

Alex Ferguson said: “Credit must go to Southampton, they came to have a real go and showed a lot of ambition.”

Saints: Taylor, Neilson, Monkou, Dryden, Charlton (Robinson 61), Berkovic (Hughes 71), Magilton, Maddison, Le Tissier, Basham, Ostenstad.

Daily Echo:

Eric Cantona (on ground, partly hidden) slides in to score the last goal before Saints' last three-week break


February 22nd 1997

‘Saints blew it big time, throwing away a 2-0 half-time lead and possibly also their Premiership future in the ultimate game of two halves,’ wrote Hiley, who described the performance as ‘a Jekyll and Hyde horror show’.

‘The only doubt was the margin of victory’ after another Egil Ostenstad goal and a Matt Le Tissier penalty, but ‘the Owls were effectively handed the points by basic defensive errors.’

‘Panic set in as soon as David Hirst reduced the deficit’. Hirst,who would sign for Saints for £2m eight months later, scored his second from another Mark Pembridge assist before an unmarked Andy Booth netted the 78th-minute winner.

Souness said: “It’s baffling and very frustrating. In many ways our whole season was there in this one match.

“We have to roll up our sleeves and work hard in our remaining 14 games to get out of trouble. I’ve never been involved in a relegation battle before and I’m not enjoying it one bit. But I’ll meet the challenge head on and the players will do the same.”

The history books record that Saints did enough, as is hoped will be the case come May.

Saints: Taylor, Van Gobbel (Slater 66), Dodd, S Charlton (Robinson 83), Monkou, Neilson, Maddison, Magilton, Berkovic, Le Tissier, Ostenstad.