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Saints Look To Go Top For The First Time In 32 Years
Friday, 6th Nov 2020 11:04

The last time Saints were top of the English football pyramid was on the 16th September 1988 according to Sky news, on the day when we could go top again, we take a look back at that time.

According to Sky news Saints were last on top of the English Football League on Friday 16th September 1988, a period of 32 years, 1 month & 21 days, this is not strictly accurate as we were actually still top on the morning of Saturday 17th September as we headed up to Highbury to take on Arsenal, the side that would eventually win the league that season, it could be said that this was the day that they won it .

Back then the Premier League had not been thought of and Saints started the season well, beating West Ham at the Dell 4-0 with goals from debutant Paul Rideout who scored a brace, Glenn Cockerill and substitute Matt Le Tissier.

We followed it up with a win at QPR, the only goal of the game being a 15 minute effort by Le Tissier, by 15 minute effort I mean the timing of the goal rather than a shot that was so far out it took that time to reach the goal, nor a mazy run by Le God that lasted that period.

A home win over Luton Town saw us go top, but it was tight, Rideout had again scored this time in the 6th minute but we hadn't added to the score and Luton equalised in the 78th minute, we looked like we would pay for a raft of missed chances when up popped Rod Wallace in the 82nd minute and Saints were top.

A week later and we were on our way to Highbury which for younger readers was the home of the Gunners back then, they lay in 6th place on 6 points and they were only dreaming of a title win not having won it since their double year of 1970/71

The game started well for Saints it was Le Tissier again who fired home from close range after a Colin Clarke cross, the lead was doubled on 24 minutes, when Rod Wallace rounded Lukic in the home side goal to make it two.

But the game would end in controversial fashion, in the second half, unseen by the referee Arsenal player Paul Davis sneaked up behind Glenn Cockerill and sucker punched him, breaking his jaw, the Saints man was laid out on the ground and the referee and linesman had not seen a thing, most of the players on either side had seen nothing either.

After a lengthy delay the game continued and Saints still looked comfortable, even a harsh penalty in the 82nd minute didn't seem to throw Saints out of their stride and as the game headed into injury time(no boards held up back then to tell you the time added) the Saints supporters roared their team on.

What also went on though was the game and it was something like the 7th minute of injury time when Alan Smith equalised for the Gunners.

Saints manager Chris Nicholl had this to say after arriving back in the dressing room some 15 minutes later than normal.

"I felt cheated and so did my players, it felt to me as though we were going to play until they scored"

Davis would only escape justice for a little while, the match was being filmed by ITV for their football highlights programme, they supplied the footage to the FA who banned Davis for 9 games and fined him £3,000, back then this would have been somewhere between 3-4 times a players wage.

Arsenal manager George Graham reacted to the suspension by banning both ITN and BBC from filming any of his side's games home or away.

At the time this result just looked like a massive injustice rather than something that would affect the final standings, we stayed second on 10 points, Norwich leaping above us to lead the table now with Millwall in 3rd place, Arsenal in 5th looked set for another season without a league title to their name.

But this result would truly count come the end of the season, this came at Anfield on a Friday evening over 8 months later, Arsenal went to play Liverpool 3 points behind and needed to win by two clear goal to win the title not on goal difference but goals scored, they did so in the dying minutes of the game, for a famous dramatic end to the season.

But this would not have happened at all without the injury time equaliser at Highbury, if Davis had not punched Cockerill then we would have surely won this game, certainly there would not have been so many minutes of injury time.

It looked like a point dropped by the Gunners at the time, but the reality was this point won them the title, without it their final game trip to Anfield would have been a dead rubber, they would have been four points behind and Liverpool would have already have been crowned champions , Davis thuggery did not just impact on Saints ability to stay top of the League but cost Liverpool the title.

Saints went into decline after this game, they would win only 3 games in the next 25 in the league and would be heading for relegation, till ironically tonight's opponents Newcastle arrived at the Dell on 1st April and that was just as dramatic with Neil Ruddock converting an injury time penalty which sent Saints season back into the ascendancy.

Photo: Action Images

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saintmark1976 added 12:10 - Nov 6
Thanks for the post Nick. A very good look back at something I remember very well. I wasn’t at Arsenal but can still remember that cheated feeling you describe. However, I was at The Dell behind the goal when Razor scored the penalty against Newcastle. Hit with great force into the room of the net I seem to remember.

NYC_Saint added 12:15 - Nov 6
I have a feeling on a more recent trip to Arsenal for the 1230pm kick off game five or six seasons ago we had the chance to go top if we beat them (I think they were top at the time). From memory this was the game where Boruc tired a Cruyff turn in the area, sort of tripped over it and Giroud (I think) picked up the ball and rolled it into the back of the net.

I was only 8 for the time you mention above, but to this day I can remember the South Today report and how I thought we would win the league! A bit like Christmas, it's all about believing...

ElijahK added 13:40 - Nov 6
Nah we ain’t looking to go top... WE ARE GOING TOP!!!

felly1 added 13:51 - Nov 6
I remember being at Highbury for this . A week before my 18th birthday.
9 minutes of injury time which was unheard of then.
I never felt so cheated watching a Saints game.

ItchenNorth added 17:59 - Nov 6
Remember it well. Good post. We need more lime this from time to time.

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