Countdown To Opening Day -1988 West Ham United
Friday, 2nd Aug 2019 14:40
A look back to opening day 31 years in 1988 when Matthew Le Tissier suddenly started to blossom as the Hammers found out to their cost.
The previous season had been one of consolation at the Dell, with Saints finishing a respectable 12th and a top ten position had looked on right to the end when we had our usual last month meltdown.
One of the disappointments of 1987/88 though had been that Matthew Le Tissier who had looked to be the rising star after making his debut in 86/87 had not really made the breakthrough having started 10 games with another 9 as sub but failing to score.
However there were high hopes that he along with a couple of youngsters called Alan Shearer & Rod Wallace who had made their debuts in the past year might herald a new and bright future for Saints as the fans looked forward to the visit of West Ham on 27th August 1988.
It was a bright and sunny day at the Dell and Saints fans snapped up copies of the 2nd issue of the Ugly Inside on the streets before the game.
West Ham had brought a full contingent of fans and had the entire Archers Road terrace as was the norm back then, when clubs would give visiting teams as many as they wanted with few games reaching capacity back then even in the top flight in a game that had been brought to it's knees due to issues with hooliganism and a general disillusionment amongst supporters.
Indeed the 18,407 in attendance would be one of the biggest gates of the season and in itself would be well short of the then capacity of the Dell of around 22,000.
Saints lined up as follows:
Forest, Moore, Osman, Statham
R Wallace, Rideout, Clarke, D Wallace
Sub Le Tissier.
Manager Chris Nicholl had opted for an attacking option and his 4-2-4 formation and it was clear that the tactic was outscore the opposition. The side included two debutants Russel Osman and Paul Rideout.
Indeed it was Paul Rideout who opened the scoring on 36 minutes heading Derek Statham's cross home and within a minute the lead was doubled as Glenn Cockerill chipped the visiting keeper.
On the hour mark the game was put beyond doubt, when Colin Clarke headed a long ball into Paul Rideout's path and he finished clinically.
But the game wasn't over yet, Matthew Le Tissier had come on as sub and in the 86th minute he went on a run that would become his trademark twising and turning before firing home to make it 4-0 and running behind the goal to reveal a celebration that would not become trademark and one he was red faced about when he spoke to The Ugly Inside later in the season, also admitting he went to Bingo sessions with his then girlfriend.
It would be a rare opening day win for Saints and things would get better aw we would then with the following two games to be top of the league after 3 games and looking set to keep that spot in the 4th when leading 2-0 at Highbury before the Gunners Paul Davis broke Glenn Cockerill's jaw with a snidey off the ball punch which earned him a retrospective ban , but ultimately allowed Arsenal back into the game to draw 2-2 with a dubious 82nd minute penalty and a last minute goal.
This punch, goal and result would prove vital to the Gunners come May when they pipped Liverpool to the title in the final game on not even goal difference which was identical, but goals scored, the story of how they won the title at Anfield is often told, where they really won it was this day back in September against Saints.
But back to the opening day, this result issued in a mood of optimism amongst Saints supporters that would last for a couple of seasons, we had an exciting young sde who scored goals for fun and let in even more, there would be never a dull moment as Danny & Rod Wallace, Paul Rideout, Alan Shearer and Le Tiss run riot in attack whilst the defence leaked goals like a sieve meaning that at one point we flirted with relegation before the arrival of Neil Ruddock but that is another story.
Photo: Action Images
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