Steve Moran capped yet another magical display with a hat-trick, as Southampton comfortably coasted to a 4-1 victory against relegation strugglers Manchester City.
The Dell was treated to a goal festival during the first half with Southampton scoring all four of their goals before the half-time interval.
Southampton capitalized from two set pieces with Steve Moran breaking the deadlock with a glancing header and Ian Baird finishing from close range following a frightful goalmouth scramble.
David Armstrong exploded into life once the clock reached the half-hour mark and hurdled numerous lunging challenges to assist a perfectly positioned Moran to score his brace.
Manchester City showed exactly why they’re struggling to preserve their top-flight status when a mix-up at the back rather fortuitously gifted Moran with an opportunity to lift the ball over the hapless Manchester City goalkeeper Alex Williams and complete his hat-trick.
The game was ended as a contest before the second half commenced, but Manchester City sought about retrieving some pride. They were rewarded for their endeavour when Kevin Reeves reduced the arrears but it would simply go down as nothing more than a consolation.
Saints ascend into seventh place and look in good stead to qualify for the UEFA Cup next season, whereas the crisis at Manchester City is deepening. They’ve accumulated just two points from a possible 27, and although it’s true that they are seven points above Norwich City in the last relegation place, The Canaries have a prime opportunity to surpass them with three games in hand.
A Half of Two Extremes
Although it’s far more enjoyable to indulge and marvel at the attacking brilliance of Southampton, it must be said that Manchester City’s defending made the task of beating them far easier.
It’s no wonder that The Citizens cannot buy a victory and they’ll be fortunate to remain in the First Division if they continue to play with such a lack of organization. Southampton established their superiority from the first whistle with Danny Wallace running the City defence ragged with his bustling runs and impressive trickery and Mick Mills providing another attacking outlet with his advancing runs down the right side.
The inevitable occurred with very little time on the clock when Steve Moran showcased his goal poaching instinct to beat his marker and glance his header into the far bottom corner. The attack was instigated by Nicky Williams, who had his initial cross blocked, but swung an inviting delivery to the back post with his second bite of the cherry. Wallace, who had started extremely well, cushioned the ball back into the danger area, and Moran had positioned himself perfectly to break the deadlock!
Saints continued to dominate with Mick Mills blasting an effort from just inside the penalty area over the woodwork. Peter Shilton was forced into action just once during the first half, although had he not been so alert to a thunderous header from Tommy Caton, then it could’ve been a very different game.
Manchester City opted for a rather unadventurous long-ball style of play, but continuously conceded possession in their attempts to find the forwards. With their defensive deficiencies in mind, Southampton ruthlessly punished them, and had doubled their lead when Ian Baird capitalized on an almighty melee inside the penalty area.
Nick Holmes floated his corner to the back post, where Nicholl climbed above his marker to hook his header into the danger area. A crowd of players bunched together inside the penalty area attempted desperately to launch the ball to safety, but the ball kindly presented itself to Baird, who wasted no time in stabbing the ball into an empty net.
The momentum was in favour of the hosts and only the offside flag could deny them a third goal. Mills slotted the ball down the right channel for Moran, and although he was subsequently flagged offside, Baird showcased his aerial prowess by guiding his header into the bottom corner.
Had it not been for the goalkeeping heroics of Alex Williams, the victory could’ve been far more emphatic for Southampton. He was alert to the danger when Moran was sent clean through on goal and smothered his effort with a smart one-on-one save.
Mills was once again in the thick of the drama when his volley deflected agonisingly wide of the near post, but another goal was beckoning, and partly due to the brilliance of Armstrong and the naivety of Kevin Bond, it came shortly before the break…
Bond recklessly sent his long-ball directly into the feet of an unforgiving Armstrong, and the Southampton midfielder rounded two defenders, before embarrassing Bond once again, and squared the ball to Moran to slot his perfectly weighted finish into the far bottom corner.
It was a goal which encapsulated the attacking excellence of Southampton and the defensive frailties of Manchester City. And it was yet another defensive error which gifted Steve Moran with his hat-trick on the cusp of half-time.
Agboola launched a hopeful ball into the Manchester City half, and rather than simply clearing their lines, Tommy Caton misjudged his attempted header back to the goalkeeper and released Moran. In a moment of pure instinct, Moran seized the opportunity beautifully by calmly lifting the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper, and just moments later, the two sets of teams headed into the dressing rooms for very contrasting team talks.
Too Little to Late!
Manchester City had very little to lose in the second half and set about salvaging some pride from what had been a devastating performance. They reaped their reward for their remarkable improvement when Kevin Reeves reduced the deficit.
Steve Williams uncharacteristically dwelled on the ball and Graham Baker pickpocketed him just outside the penalty area. He quickly sprayed the ball out to the skipper Paul Power, who plugged a gap in the Saints defence to find Reeves with his back facing the goal.
Reeves innovatively swivelled beyond his marker and dispatched a tidy finish past Peter Shilton and into the bottom corner. But rather than spark a remarkable comeback, Southampton emerged from a stage of complacency to continuously pepper the Manchester City goal with chances.
Wallace was at the heart of the action in the second half, firstly assisting Holmes, who had his tame volley claimed by Williams, and secondly when his close-range effort whistled narrowly wide of the far post.
Southampton subsequently cruised to victory and Steve Moran could’ve had another two goals. He cleverly escaped the clutches of his marker when Holmes delivered a magnificent cross into the near post but he could only direct his header off target. Then Williams won the battle of wits once again by emerging to divert the ball behind when Moran found himself baring down on goal in the dying embers of the match.
What Happened After?
Manchester City won three of their remaining ten league fixtures against West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Brighton & Hove Albion respectively. But the damage had been done and manager John Benson, who had only been employed by the club just three months before, was relieved of his duties at the end of the season.
They failed to defeat bottom-place Luton Town on the final day of the season and succumbed to relegation after finishing just one point behind 20th place Coventry City. Fortunately, the legendary Lisbon Lions’ captain Billy McNeil guided them back into the First Division in 1985, although it would take just two seasons for them to suffer relegation back into the second-tier.
Southampton also failed to capitalize on an incredible start to the 1982/83 season. Their victory against Manchester City took them into seventh place, but just two wins from their final 10 league fixtures, including three successive league defeats at the end of the campaign ultimately ended their chances of qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
By the end of the season, Saints had slipped to as low as 12th place and trailed Aston Villa, who occupied the final European qualification spot, by a significant eleven points. Another incredible fact which didn’t escape my attention when writing this article is the man who scored a hat-trick Steve Moran, went onto become a lorry driver following his retirement. Oh how the times have changed!