This week, we have been going back to the early 80s and remembering Southampton and their best season – join us in the 1983-84 campaign where the Saints pushed for the Double. This article originally featured on Tale of Two Halves back in December 2018 and you can find part one of the series here.
Welcome back for part two of our look at Southampton’s 1983-84 season when they were chasing an unexpected double. It would prove to be one of their most memorable seasons.
When we left, they were chasing Manchester United and Liverpool by the end of October.
The month began with their fourth successive away defeat as Keith Bertschin’s fifth goal of the season gave Norwich the points at Carrow Road. Southampton were now down to eighth and already the locals were wondering if the promising start was another false dawn.
The mood didn’t lift when they met Rotherham United in the League Cup. The Third Division side had already put out Luton Town in the Second Round, despite losing the first leg 3-2 at home.
David Armstrong was on target for Southampton, but goals from Bobby Mitchell and Mark Rhodes gave Rotherham another First Division scalp to put them into the Fourth Round. Southampton were in good company, though. Manchester United and Arsenal both succumbed to Third Division opposition in the shape of Oxford United and Walsall, respectively.
Southampton had now lost five successive away matches, yet at home, they remained unbeaten.
In the league, this continued as a Steve Moran penalty gave them a 1-0 win at home to West Brom.
A week later their unbeaten home record fell. Notts County were in the bottom three at the time and shocked The Dell’s fans as Justin Fashanu and Trevor Christie scored to give the visitors a 2-0 win. Liverpool had hit the top of the table for the first time in the season and Southampton were now down to seventh. They’d now lost six of their last ten in all competitions.
Their impressive defensive record at the start of the season was now in tatters, as they’d been without Mick Mills since the Wolves match and Mark Wright since the game against Ipswich.
Goals were also hard to come by as they drew 0-0 at Coventry the following week and had scored just once in their last four league matches.
A wretched month ended with another loss. They travelled to Filbert Street to try again against Leicester City after the abandoned game back in October. Leicester were second from bottom with one win all season. That one win changed to two as Alan Smith and Gary Lineker scored to give them a 2-1 win. During this game, Mark Dennis made his debut for The Saints. Dennis would become a cult hero, not necessarily for reasons many players would seek, at The Dell.
Six matches for Southampton in November, one win and four defeats. Roll on Christmas
Where November had been a month to forget, December saw an immediate lift in fortunes. Mick Mills returned for the visit of Stoke City. He’d missed ten matches, six of which had been lost and fourteen goals conceded. Not only did his presence galvanise the team but he got his name on the scoresheet too. David Armstrong and Danny Wallace also scored in a 3-1 win. Their home form was bettered only by two other sides at that point. The rousing atmosphere at The Dell was proving a real boon for the players, but away from home, they were struggling. They were sixth in the table, but if they could improve their form on the road they’d be in a much better position. McMenemy continued to freshen up the squad having bought Dennis from Birmingham and now he paid Swansea £70,000 for Welsh international, Alan Curtis. Curtis took to the field for the first time for his new charges against Stoke.
They were only three points off second place, but a point better off were Tottenham and it was to White Hart Lane Southampton travelled next. The two sides played out a goalless draw.
The draw saw them slip a place on a day when leaders Liverpool were humbled at Coventry where Micky Quinn netted a hat-trick.
Birmingham were up next at The Dell and Southampton’s impressive home form continued. There were three goals in the game and Birmingham players scored them all. But Southampton won 2-1 as Noel Blake and Jim Hagan both put through their own net.
Boxing Day saw them make the trip to Upton Park to take on West Ham United. The Hammers were having a good season. They were lying third in the table with just one defeat at home. Young Danny Wallace scored the only goal of the game and Southampton came away with an important 1-0 win.
As was customary in those days, clubs had another fixture the very next day. Most of the fixtures were reasonably local, in sympathy with the supporters. Southampton played host to Watford. Watford were fifth from bottom and had just come off a 3-2 win at home to Aston Villa. But Southampton’s home form didn’t desert them and David Armstrong scored the only goal of the game.
They were now on a roll, with three straight wins and unbeaten in five. They were up to the heady heights of third place, just four points off leaders, Liverpool and one point off Manchester United in second.
Their third game in six days saw them travel to Highbury to take on an Arsenal side who were languishing mid-table. Steve Moran returned to the team after five days out and celebrated with a double. A Charlie Nicholas penalty managed to salvage a point for The Gunners. With Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham all winning, Southampton dropped to fourth.
A busy Christmas schedule came to an end with the Saints’ fourth game in eight days. They went behind to a Gary Shaw goal in the first half, but Steve Moran was again on target to equalise. David Armstrong put them in front but Steve McMahon managed to earn another 2-2 draw. Southampton were now unbeaten in six since the Leicester defeat.
Just before the FA Cup break, Southampton had slipped to fifth. Nottingham Forest had swapped places with them, although they hadn’t lost ground on those above them. Coincidentally, they were about to meet Forest in the FA Cup Third Round.
January – FA Cup Third Round
FA Cup Third Round day. Southampton were drawn at The City Ground against Nottingham Forest. A much-anticipated match which saw Peter Shilton return to his old club. Steve Moran continued his scintillating form with another two goals, giving him five in his last three matches since returning to the side. Paul Hart scored a consolation for the home side and Southampton ran out 2-1 winners.
That round was certainly one for headlines. The biggest shock of the round was when Third Division Bournemouth beat Manchester United, 2-0. United were the cup holders yet humiliated at their first defence. Elsewhere, non-league Telford United beat Fourth Division Rochdale 4-1 away from home. Arsenal were knocked out by Second Division Middlesbrough, Tottenham held to a goalless draw at Second Division Fulham and Manchester City were beaten by Fourth Division Blackpool. The round kicked off with Kevin Keegan returning to Anfield with his Newcastle United side. They were well beaten 0-4.
Three weeks after their last league match, Southampton resumed things when they arrived at Old Trafford to take on a humbled Man United. United, managed by Ron Atkinson, were in second place and looking to keep the pressure up on Liverpool, who they’d drawn with in their last match. Steve Moran again grabbed a brace to take his tally to seven in his last four games. But United came out on top with goals from Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren and Frank Stapleton to give them a 3-2 win.
No win in their last three had Southampton down to sixth as QPR had now moved above them. Liverpool, Man United and West Ham were all stretching ahead at the top too.
Two days later they were in action against Nottingham Forest again. Having beaten them in the FA Cup they were confident of doing so again at The Dell. But Garry Birtles scored the only goal of the game and Southampton had suffered a second defeat in three days. Forest were now up to third. Southampton were in a group with QPR, Luton and Coventry who were all separated by a point.
FA Cup Fourth Round
After anticipating their last round match against Nottingham Forest, Southampton’s Fourth Round tie was an even bigger story. They made the short trip to neighbours Portsmouth. Pompey were a Second Division side, lying mid-table at the time. This would be the first meeting between the two sides since April 1976, a month before Southampton shocked Manchester United to win the trophy. Portsmouth contained several players with First Division experience. Mark Hateley (Coventry), who was a couple of months away from being signed by Milan. Alan Biley (Derby) and Kevin Dillon (Birmingham) added some important experience.
They also fielded Neil Webb who would move to Nottingham Forest a year later and then onto Man Utd. 36,000 packed into Fratton Park which was used to a crowd of less than half that. It made for a terrific cup tie atmosphere. The game was goalless and heading towards injury time when Biley had the best chance of the game, but he fired his shot over the bar from close range. Almost immediately Southampton attacked. David Armstrong crossed towards the far post and Moran scored, yet again. Southampton had won it in the dying moments.
Elsewhere, Everton were held to a goalless draw at home to Gillingham and Liverpool were knocked out by Brighton, who were runners-up a year earlier but relegated to the Second Division in the same season. Telford’s dream finally came to an end when they were narrowly beaten 2-3 at Derby County.
Although January had included two cup wins, their league form had been poor. No wins, two defeats. They were handed a great opportunity to get back on track as they visited Wolves, who at the foot of the table, eight points from safety. Steve Moran was again on the scoresheet and his was again the only goal of the game. A 1-0 win had seen Moran score his sixth goal in his last five league games and his ninth in his last seven in all competitions. They were grateful for Moran’s goals. Only five sides had scored fewer than them in the whole First Division, yet they were still sixth.
A week later Southampton entertained Sunderland, who were also in the bottom half. Yet again Steve Moran scored, this time from the penalty spot. It was his eleventh league goal of the season and gave The Saints a half-time lead. But Lee Chapman, who’d been signed from Arsenal just after Christmas, equalised.
FA Cup Fifth Round
As English football’s premier cup competition reached the last sixteen stage, only eight First Division sides were still in it. And this can’t have happened many times before, but the highest-ranked sides still competing were West Ham and Southampton. Southampton’s third game in this season’s cup and all of them away from home. This time they were up against Second Division, Blackburn Rovers, who’d knocked out Chelsea and Swindon. This game was first up on the Friday night and hinged on one moment of inspiration from The Saints’ man-of-the-moment, Steve Moran.
With the game seemingly heading for a replay, a ball was cleared from the back and Moran picked it up just outside the area on the right. He looked for support but there was none, so he twisted and turned to beat Jim Branagan, and got to the byline. His ball into the near post had just enough on it to allow David Armstrong to nip in and turn it into the net. It was a dramatic winner and The Saints’ fans were trying not to get ahead of themselves.
Next day when West Ham were dumped out of the cup 3-0 at Birmingham, Southampton couldn’t be blamed for wondering if it was to be their year. But theirs wasn’t the story being told.
Third Division Plymouth Argyle took time out from their battle against relegation to book their place in the last eight when Tommy Tynan scored the only goal at The Hawthorns to knock out First Division West Brom. Southampton were one of just four First Division clubs (Watford, Notts County & Everton) still left in the competition. Their next task would be up against Sheffield Wednesday, flying high at the top of the Second Division. Yet again it would be an away fixture.
The week after their cup exploits, they were away in the league at Ipswich. The Portman Road were struggling to match their glory days of a few years earlier after Bobby Robson had taken the England job. A blistering first half saw the visitors race into a 3-0 lead. Frank Worthington scored just his third of the season, with Steve Moran and David Armstrong again getting on the scoresheet. For Moran, this was now eight goals in his last seven league matches.
The following weekend their good form continued as Luton Town were the visitors to The Dell. David Armstrong was again on target and so too was, for the one and only time that season, Mark Wright. A 2-1 win saw them move above QPR into fifth, a point off the top four with a game in hand.
Steve Moran missed the following week’s game at home to Norwich City, but Southampton kept up their winning run. David Armstrong scored in his fourth successive match and David Puckett came off the bench for Alan Curtis, Moran’s replacement, to grab his first of the season.
Three straight wins and four in their last five, all unbeaten, had cemented their fifth place. But they were only a point off third. But the next two weeks would be critical. A trip to Sheffield Wednesday in the Sixth Round of the cup and then the visit of champions Liverpool.
Join us for part three where we move into the FA Cup quarter-finals and also the run-in to the end of the season. Could Southampton improve on fifth place in the league?