After facing the initial disappointment and pain from being dumped out of the League Cup final just three days ago, I imagine the players are now analysing the game in hunt for any valuable lessons. How did they cope under pressure? What would they carry out again? And what decisions would they change?
Reflection is a valuable tool for any footballer if they want to progress, but in my view, they shouldn’t be the only ones doing so after last Sunday; If we as fans can take anything away from that monumental day, it’s to recognise the influence that our support can have on the team.
Having started the game with an attractive yet direct approach, Claude Puel’s side looked to have found the game’s opener inside the 12th minute, but Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal was wrongly waved offside.
Just five minutes later, half of Wembley was stunned into silence as Zlatan Ibrahimovic found the back of the net with a 30-yard free-kick. This failed to dishearten either one of the fans or the players however, as Southampton chants filled the stadium and the positive play continued.
Southampton we’re looking dangerous in attack and looking to play the positive pass at all times, but just as luck had it, Jesse Lingard doubled United’s lead in the 37th minute, with a sweet curling effort into the bottom right corner – their second chance of the game.
In the moment, it was gutting. Truly gutting. Watching on over the Wembley turf I had witnessed my team play with confidence, bravery, and style, yet still, we found ourselves 2-0 down at the hands of the officials and United’s clinical finishing.
But what happened next was a moment that will never leave me as a Southampton fan. With all hope of Cup glory seemingly gone following Lingard’s fine finish, Gabbiadini stepped up to provide the touch of class that Southampton have desired so many times this season; there was once again hope. Timed to perfection in the 45th minute, Gabbiadini’s goal gave Southampton new life before the break, with over 32,000 fans screaming for more as the teams marched in at half time.
The referee then blew his whistle to get the second half underway, and instantly, there was this venomous momentum behind Southampton with the support of their travelling fans. In the opening stages of that second half there wasn’t a single moment where the Southampton fans stopped chanting, and late into the 46th minute, they were handed their reward.
With remarkable awareness and instinct, Gabbiadini watched the ball fall to his feet with his back to goal, before swivelling on his heel and lacing the ball past a rooted David De Gea. It was simply beautiful. Deemed to be down and out, little old Southampton had clawed back from a two-goal deficit, and now, our fans truly believed that we could take this trophy home with us. Nothing quite proves that like half of Wembley stadium swinging their scarves to the sound of our Italian hero’s name.
— Al Bear (@AlGalpin) February 26, 2017
For the next 15 minutes, the chanting was endless. Manchester United’s half of Wembley had been reduced to silence, and given their well renowned away support, that is quite some achievement.
The incredible Southampton support was still far from over though. As the game reached the 62nd minute, out came 30,000+ shining lights from the Southampton fans, as a loving tribute to their former Chairman and club saviour, Markus Liebherr. The very man that allowed us to experience such a thrilling occasion.
— Fresh Saints (@FreshSaints) February 26, 2017
Sadly however, we know the remainder of this story. Despite pushing on with bravery and the willingness to express ourselves right up until the closing moments of the game, Ibrahimovic was the difference in the 86th minute.
A moment of true quality from an undisputed world class footballer settled the tie, but all in all, I couldn’t be any prouder of my football club and our fans. Right from the first whistle to the very last, we stood strong by our team and ensured that when they needed that extra push, we made our voices heard.
It’s understandable for fans of a football club to brag about the quality of their support, but in all honesty – minus the Northam stand – St Mary’s has been lacking for a long while. Our fans are superb, there is no doubting that, but having witnessed for myself what 32,000+ chanting fans in red and white can do to a game, I’m left with just one question; can we now transfer that same overpowering atmosphere to St Mary’s Stadium?