May 4th 1982. The competition was the English First Division (now the Premier League), the venue was The Dell, Southampton’s old ground, and the two protagonists were Southampton and Coventry City.
They produced the first score draw of ten goals in the First Division since Chelsea v West Ham in December 1966.
Southampton, then managed by Lawrie McMenemy, had been playing some exciting football that season and were lying sixth in the table. They had lead the table from the end of January to the end of March, but were now on a bad run at just the wrong time for them. One win in their last five matches with four defeats had seen their title ambitions slip away and the best they could hope for would be third place. McMenemy had assembled a team combining youth and experience. He’d shocked the world by tempting England captain, Kevin Keegan, back from his successful German excursion and he slotted alongside England World Cup winner, Alan Ball and another England mate of Keegan’s, Mick Channon, who was enjoying a second coming at The Dell.
In defence he’d recruited Aston Villa’s League Cup winning skipper, Chris Nicholl as well as hard working midfielder David Armstrong from Middlesbrough. The previous season Southampton had finished sixth, which at that point was their highest finish in their history.
Young players like Steve Moran, Steve Williams, Graham Baker and Mark Wright were just starting to come through and would make an impression on Saints fans in years to come.
Coventry were managed by Dave Sexton, former Chelsea, QPR and Manchester United manager. Sexton had also chosen experience to add to some promising youngsters, with Gerry Daly and Gerry Francis in midfield. Daly had been part of Manchester United’s team in the 1970s which won the FA Cup in 1977. Gerry Francis had captained England during a long career, and was influential in QPR’s captain when they had their best ever season in the top flight in 1976.
Coventry’s young hopefuls included Gary Gillespie and Danny Thomas in defence and a strike partnership which was beginning to pay dividends, Garry Thompson and Mark Hateley. On the left they had blond-haired Steve Hunt. Hunt had played with Pele, Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto for New York Cosmos at the end of the 70’s. He was MVP (man of the match) in Pele’s last match as well their Soccer Bowl win in 1977.
Coventry had spent most of the season in the bottom half and had hovered just outside the relegation zone for much of it too. But in contrast to their hosts they were on a good run, unbeaten in six, picking up 14pts from a maximum 18pts. This run had seen them climb to 15th and were now in no danger of dropping down a division. A week before this match Coventry had thumped Sunderland, 6-1, with goals from Hateley (2), Thompson (2), Gillespie and Francis.
Steve Hunt got behind the Saints defence and Steve Whitton volleyed the visitors into the lead, 0-1. After 22 minutes Kevin Keegan levelled things with his 25th of the season, 1-1. Hunt was again involved when he put Mark Hateley through just before half-time and Coventry lead 1-2 at the break.
McMenemy’s half-time team talk must’ve got the home side going as they only took two minutes to level things again. A free-kick was floated in and Keith Cassels got up to head in his first goal for the club, 2-2. If the home fans had expected their side to dominate proceedings they were soon disappointed as Coventry scored twice in a ten minute period. First Hateley grabbed his second of the game to put the visitors in front, 2-3, and then Whitton did the same to extend the lead, 2-4. Many have said Whitton’s second was his best for the club. At 4-2 up Coventry could be forgiven for believing they were cruising, especially when Saints confidence must’ve been at a low ebb at this stage in the season.
But the home side just wouldn’t lie down and straight from the kick-off, Alan Ball reduced the arrears. Ball, a week shy of his 37th birthday, had missed just one game all season and he’d picked an ideal moment to score his first goal of the season, 3-4. Midway through the second half, Cassells chipped in his second of the game and Southampton back on level terms at 4-4.
The game moved into the final five minutes when Kevin Keegan beat the offside trap to score his second of the game, 5-4. That goal took Keegan’s tally to 28 for the season and 26 in the league and Southampton were in front for the first time in the match. Amazingly, in the dying seconds Mark Hateley scored to complete his first senior hat-trick to rescue a point for City and the game ended 5-5, with a breathless crowd able to go home happy for their entertainment on a warm Tuesday evening.
Former Coventry manager, Joe Mercer, said afterwards the game reminded him of some of the classics from the 1930s.
Tuesday 4th May 1982, The Dell, Southampton, 18,522
SOUTHAMPTON (2) 5 (Keegan 2, Cassells 2, Ball)
COVENTRY CITY (2) 5 (Whitton 2, Hateley 3)
Southampton: Katalinic; Golac, Nicholl, Whitlock (Wallace), Holmes; Ball, Williams, Armstrong; Channon, Keegan, Cassells
Coventry: Sealey; Thomas, Gillespie, Dyson, Jacobs; Butterworth, Francis, Hunt; Whitton, Thompson, Hateley
In other results that night, Chris Whyte scored the only goal of the game as Arsenal won at Birmingham. That victory moved them ahead of Southampton as the two swapped places. Wolves and Leeds hopes of avoiding relegation suffered further blows as they were both beaten. Graeme Sharp scored his 13th of the season as Everton beat Leeds and a rare goal for Sammy Nelson helped Brighton see off Wolves.
Another side battling the drop, Sunderland took a first half lead when Colin West scored at Upton Park, but they had to settle for a point when Ray Stewart converted a penalty in the second half to level things up for West Ham.
BIRMINGHAM (0) 0
ARSENAL (0) 1 (Whyte)
Birmingham: Coton; Langan, Stevenson, Van den Hauwe, Hawker (Phillips); Van Mierlo, Curbishley, Broadhurst, Dillon; Harford, Evans
Arsenal: Wood; Hollins, O’Leary, Whyte, Sansom; Robson, Talbot, Davis, Rix; Hawley, Sunderland
BRIGHTON (0) 2 (Robinson, Nelson)
WOLVES (0) 0
Brighton: Moseley; Shanks, Stevens, Foster, Nelson; Case (Grealish), Gatting, McNab, Ring; Ritchie, Robinson
Wolves: Bradshaw; Humphrey, Pender, Coy, Hollifield (Atkinson); Hibbitt, Carr, Eves; Matthews, Richards, Clarke
EVERTON (0) 1 (Sharp)
LEEDS UNITED (0) 0
Everton: Southall; Stevens, Higgins, Wright, Walsh; Irvine, McMahon, Ross, Rimmer (Eastoe); Heath, Sharp
Leeds U: Lukic; Cherry, Hart, Burns (Hird), Gray F; Gray E, Flynn, Graham; Worthington, Connor, Barnes
WEST HAM (0) 1 (Stewart pen)
SUNDERLAND (1) 1 (West)
West Ham: Parkes; Stewart, Orr, Laronde; Allen, Pike, Brooking, Devonshire; Van der Elst, Cross, Goddard
Sunderland: Turner; Hinnigan, Chisholm, Elliott, Munro; Buckley, Hindmarch, Pickering, Rowell; Cummins, West