On This Day In History - 15th May 2016 A Fight For 5th
Friday, 15th May 2020 09:16
The last day of the Premier League season and we didn't know it then but the end of another era, but we had a lot to play for on the final day, could we step up to the plate against Crystal Palace.
A bright sunny day started with Saints in 7th place and hosting Crystal Palace who themselves had their minds on glory, being due to play the FA Cup Final the following Saturday and as much as most Saints fans didn't want Manchester United to win that one, they knew that our Europa League hopes might well depend on that result going in favour of United.
Saints could finish as high as 5th if they won and West Ham failed to win at mid table stoke with United losing at home to Bournemouth.
But they could also be leapfrogged by Liverpool who were at West Brom, so there was a lot to play for around the Europa League spots on a rare day when both the title and the relegation spots had already been decided and not go down to the final day.
But Palace would not make it easy for Saints and the stats for this game were almost identical, the difference was Saints finishing.
It would be the stroke of half time though before Saints nerves would be settled in a game that had yet to catch alight, Julian Speroni in the Palace goal under pressure from Shane Long could only push a cross as far as Sadio Mane. who calmly hooked the ball home to hand the impetus to the home side, who mostly controlled the rest of the match.
But if we had control in the second half Palace were not given up and it was the hour mark before a second goal came when Graziano Pelle a half time substitute doubled the lead.
But then came a twist, former Saints player Jason Puncheon fired home only 3 minutes later to shake the nerves of the home crowd again.
With 15 minutes to go the game could have gone either way but then Saints got a penalty and Ryan Bertrand restore the two goal cushion.
The victory was sealed with three minutes to go when Steven Davis scored to ensure that Saints would take all three goals.
Now it was to the smart phones to find out how it had all finished elsewhere.
Everyone knew that the actual places would not be confirmed on this day, Man Utd's game against Bournemouth had been called off due to a security scare that subsequently proved a false alarm, so we would have to wait for that one.
The most important result for us was the one at West Ham, in the first half that had not gone well, the Hammers were a goal up after 23 minutes and that was the score at the break, so at that stage we were still in 7th place which if that stayed the same would see us needing United to win the cup so we would get the FA Cup winners Europa League place as we had the previous season.
Things changed on 55 minutes when Stoke equalised, suddenly that roused the Saints crowd who knew that we had suddenly leapfrogged the Hammer, but right to the final whistle we knew that a goal from them would knock us back.
But then as injury time loomed at St Mary's a ripple went through the crowd that turned to cheers, Stoke had got a second and were leading 2-1. We all knew that West Ham had to score 2 goals in what we assumed would be about 7 minutes including injury time.
So as we saw out our game for the three points many were looking at smart phones not the pitch.
The result was confirmed and we knew that we were guaranteed at least sixth place and that mean a Europa League spot and more importantly straight into the group games, we could now wish Palace fans all the best against United the following week.
But we were sitting in 5th place, it all now depended on what would happen in the rescheduled game up at Old Trafford, we were level on points with United with a better goal difference, so only a Cherries win would keep us in 5th.
I suspect that given their supporters manufactured hatred of all things Saints in order to create a local rivalry, they had some fans who were praying for their team to lose against United when the teams met only two days later.
Our main hope was that United would have one eye on the cup final, no such luck they won emphatically, so it was sixth place for us.
Back at St Mary's we were in celebratory mood, the teams did their lap of honour and we applauded, unaware that this would be another summer of turmoil.
We expected Pelle to go, he had said he wanted to finish his career in his homeland where he had never really flourished, we had already signed his replacement in Charlie Austin.
We knew that Wanyama would go to Spurs, those that now claim Saints sell anyone for the right price should recall that we blocked Schneiderlin in 2014 and Wanyama in 2015, both after hissy fits meaning they missed games knuckled down and gave us another season. Wanyama now had a year on his contract left, so we had to sell him or lose him for free in 2017.
But we didn't expect Sadio Mane to leave, he had just had a season much like his first, a late burst at the end disguising long periods where he ran around but didn't score much.
If you asked any Saints fan after this game how much we would get for Mane if we sold him, most would have said about £15 million, a bit more than we paid for him but not much. No one would have predicted Liverpool or a Big Six club would come in, he was just too inconsistent.
But the real blow was Ronald Koeman, we knew Everton were trying to poch him, but the Dutchman had stated that it was not about money for him and that he had never broken a contract, that he would be here next season.
But the Everton offers kept getting bigger and when the offer came that made him something like the 6th highest paid manager in the World, his resolve snapped and he threw his principles out of the window and took the money.
His body language at his first press conference on Merseyside suggested that he already knew he had betrayed his morals and wished he had never agreed to go, Everton fans I have spoken to have always said he never bought into their club and fans in the way he did at Saints.
But life is what it is, the summer of 2016 was turmoil, but 2016/17 was on paper at least one of the top half dozen in our history, 8th place and a Cup final not something that happens to the club that often, but those that on one hand state the club lacks ambition, on the other demand that they be entertained ahead of League placings and cup finals, in modern football unless you are one of the Big Six you can't have both glory and entertainment, Saints might have not fared as well in the last six years as we would all have hoped, but then again neither have Everton who on poaching Koeman their owner made bold claims about what he was going to achieve in the next few years.
A lesson to be learned, it is not about having and spending money it is about spending what you have well.
Photo: Action Images
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