Alex McCarthy

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The most intense derby never played

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PORTSMOUTH — I want to start by saying I’m from Hampshire. The south coast derby between Portsmouth and Southampton is something I’ve always been aware of, as the pride of both port cities on England’s south coast is on the line for the League Cup third round tie.

Locally, it dominates discussions. These two teams go years without playing one another. This time, it has been seven years since their last meeting, before that there has been waits of seven, eight and even 10 years between games.

This rivalry has been born from a lack of action and in those lengthy gaps, many myths about dockers from each city going on strike added further fuel to the fire.

It is the most intense derby hardly ever played. The world hardly ever gets to see it. In the last 31 years the two teams have played each other 10 times. Just 10 times.

The lack of games and opportunity for bragging rights is what makes this derby one of the most intense, and special, in England. Both clubs have fallen on tough times financially in recent years and when one was in the PL, the other was languishing in the lower leagues, and vice versa.

Hampshire police are undertaking their biggest-ever operation to make sure both sets of fans are safe, with drones, helicopters and police horses all out in force. The last time these teams met in the Premier League at Portsmouth it resulted in the highest number of arrests for a PL game in history.

The fact this cup game was drawn out of hat to happen just last month, plus it is being played at night and around rush hour provides huge issues for the local police.

There is an extra crackle in the air around these games. There are extra looks over your shoulder. Many see Hampshire as an idyllic coastal area of England. It may well be most of the time, but not for this game. To use the south coast lexicon this is the Skates versus the Scummers. Yep. You read that correctly.

Here is my first-person account of being in Hampshire ahead of the game, traveling to Fratton Park and being behind-the-scenes at one of the fiercest, and less heard about, derbies in world soccer.


THE BUILD UP

After the draw was announced in late August, there has been a month of build up. A month of fans snapping back at each other. A month of both teams showcasing famous derby wins on social media.

But what is a month when tensions have been bubbling up under the surface for seven years?

The thing about this rivalry is that the cities are 18 miles apart and are pretty much independent from one another. Portsmouth is a naval port, Southampton a container and cruise ship port. It takes 20 minutes to drive from one to the other along the M27, but when you get halfway, towns like Fareham and Whiteley become somewhat of a no man’s land.

If you walk into a pub in these areas, you have no idea who supports who. There’s a scan across the bar, just like walking into a saloon in the Wild West. The tension is very, very real on a daily basis.

Unlike Man City v. Man United, Everton v. Liverpool and Arsenal v. Tottenham, there are rarely people from the same family who support either team. You are either Saints or Pompey. That’s it.

Portsmouth and Southampton should probably be chucked together as one city, just like Raleigh-Durham or Minneapolis-St. Paul in the United States. But there is absolutely no desire from locals for this to happen. None whatsoever. South Hampshire is the eighth largest urban area in the UK, and Southampton and Portsmouth are its two biggest cities.

Local councils and the UK government have tried to link the cities together to get planning and funding for the area as a whole, calling it ‘Solent City’ but there is something holding it all back. Football. And that’s just how it is. The local media outlets cover both teams, towns around both cities selling the Southern Daily Echo (Southampton) and the Portsmouth News. For the days leading up to this game, legends of both clubs have been fanning the flames and talking about past glory.

National radio and TV stations have been debating just how big this game is, and where it ranks in terms of UK and European rivalries. But unless you’re from Hampshire or the South Coast, nobody has a real sense of just how big this is. That is the beauty of it.

For this game, the referees have been told that players subbed off do not have to adhere to the new FIFA laws that they should exit the pitch at the nearest possible spot. Due to fears over their safety, players will have to walk off at the halfway line.

“I think people who have never been to one of those games and never sampled the atmosphere would probably look at it and kind of say ‘Oh, it’s just a little south coast derby, it’s nothing important’, but to the two sets of fans it’s an incredibly important fixture,” Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier said before the game.

Pompey boss Kenny Jackett knows his team are the underdogs (they currently sit fourth from bottom in the third tier and Pompey fans are singing week in, week out for him to be fired) but he also knows playing at home will provide a huge advantage. He smelt an upset.

“Of course we can [cause an upset],” Jackett said. “You can get things right on the day. Particularly with it being a home game, I think that really helps us.”

Saints’ Austrian boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, in his first full season as a manager in England, has been told for the last month just how big this game is. After a less than impressive start to the PL season, Hasenhuttl’s reign as Saints boss will likely be deemed a success if he can do two things: 1) Keep them in the Premier League. 2) Beat Portsmouth.

“Sure you can be a legend. It doesn’t matter if you are a League One team or a Premier League team. In that moment it’s not interesting. It’s about this one game and you can be a big hero if you decide it,” Hasenhuttl said.

Players from both teams talked about the importance of the game, but talk really wouldn’t do it justice.


THE GAME

Heading to Portsmouth on a train from London on the day of the game, Waterloo station, London’s busiest, has numerous trains to Southampton and Portsmouth every hour. But again, both cities are close but kept separate.

Lads in Pompey shirts hung off the train at each stop down to the coast, a beer in hand. Any Saints fans were well disguised.

A train to Portsmouth does not pass through Southampton, and vice versa, for a very good reason. That reason was about to be hammered home.

Pompey fans on the train were watching videos on social media of the police and home fans gathering near the entrance to the stadium.

“Saints haven’t won at Fratton Park for 35 years. That is a long, long time,” said one. “Yeah, but that will end tonight,” said a pessimistic fan. Some Pompey fans were even placing bets on Saints to win.

“I think it is good to play a local rival,” said a child dressed in a Pompey kit to his father. While two Pompey fans sat to one side were getting frustrated by train delays due to signaling problems, they were skeptical. “This is because they’re bringing in the scum. That’s it. This is going to make everyone agitated.”

The walk to the stadium from the station was terrifying. You can only describe it as entrenched, unconscious hatred. This had an edge to it. It is instinctive for these fans to hate one another.

Riot police trucks lined the route to the stadium, police helicopters were overhead, drones in the sky, it was all going on. Portsmouth fans were shown running up and down the streets trying to attack police horses (one of them punching a horse and then getting the expected treatment from officers) and it was all getting a bit out of hand before the game.

It was rumored a small group of Saints fans were caught up in the train chaos and were late to arrive, and the police were doing their best to separate the fans.

Here was the Song of choice belted out by Pompey’s fans:

“He’s only a poor little scummer. His face is all tattered and torn, He made me feel sick, So I hit him with a brick, And now he don’t sing any more.”

Portsmouth fans couldn’t believe a ‘bubble system’ wasn’t being implemented to keep the Saints fans safe.

“There will still be a war. The police are playing a game, ‘which copper can catch the most hooligans.’ It is crazy.”

Another discussion broke out: “You should kick a scummer, or punch one.” Then a nice addition arrived: “I’ll hit one with a brick. That will sort them out.”

Rain pouring down. The wind howling off the English Channel. Floodlights on. An apt scene was set at Fratton Park seconds before kick off.

Fratton Park is one of the oldest, and tightest, grounds in England. It is an intimidating place for any team, let alone their bitter rivals, to visit. It is old school to the extreme.

As Mike Oldfield’s Portsmouth song roared over the speakers, you felt as if you had been transported to the 18th century and were about to leave for the high seas on a tall ship.

The game itself started superbly for the home team. Pompey should have been at least 2-0 up early on. John Marquis hit the post. Brett Pitman had a shot well tipped over by Alex McCarthy and Saints somehow scrambled the ball off the line from the corner as McCarthy juggled with the ball on the floor. It was chaos.

Then, Saints scored with their first chance of the game. Local lad, Danny Ings, first had a shot beaten away and then turned superbly before curling home a beauty to make it 1-0. Saints should have doubled their lead when Ings was denied by MacGillivray, then Hojbjerg had a shot cleared on the line.

Lifelong Saints fans Ings scored a second just before half time and celebrated in front of the home supporters and coins and other objects flew the way of Southampton’s players.

In the away end red flares were plentiful.

Saints were in charge but Pompey, and their crowd, would not go away. Literally.

Home fans chucked the ball at Saints players who were trying to take throw ins. Chants of “Blue Army!” rang out and “Scummers, Scummers!” at regular intervals.

Southampton’s 2,000 fans behind the goal heaped praise on Ings, “he’s one of our own” and the chants got louder and louder.

In the second half the home fans continued to sing and their players continued to come close to pulling a goal back.

Multiple crosses flashed across the goal and both sets of fans were going through their full repertoire of anti-Pompey and Saints songs. Each set of fans sung “there’s only one team in Hampshire” proudly.

“Your support is f***** s***!” sang the Pompey fans as the rain poured down. That was followed by “You’re going home in a Pompey ambulance” and “You dirty scummers, we will see you outside!”

The battle lines had been drawn for the tight streets outside of Fratton Park.

Second half goals from Cedric Soares and Nathan Redmond put the game beyond doubt for Southampton, as their fans celebrated wildly at the final whistle.

It was Saints’ first win at Pompey since 1984. My word, 35 years is a long time to wait for a win at your bitter rivals. And this was their biggest ever win at Portsmouth.

”Four nil in your own back yard!” was the taunting chant from Saints’ fans who had to wait in the stadium for close to an hour after full time as the police cleared the nearby streets of Pompey fans.

Portsmouth’s fans were in great voice too, and no matter how the game turned out on the pitch, the atmosphere off the pitch was right up there with the best. The whole occasion lived up the hype and the weather, the game and the fans all combined to deliver a special night.

This game may not be played for another seven years, and it if isn’t, that’s a shame. It needs to happen more often, but maybe you can get too much of a good thing.

Hasenhuttl was jubilant at the final whistle.

His first tase of the south coast derby has him hooked.

“We will not forget this evening, and the fans too. It was a fantastic atmosphere until the end and to score four goals here is fantastic. It is more than only reaching the next round. It is about reaching the hearts of the fans,” Hasenhuttl said. ‘You could feel the tradition that is in this derby. I think I have never had such an atmosphere in a stadium so far and I have seen a lot in my entire footballing career. It was a very special game for me also.”

Danny Ings added: “It’s a crazy feeling. I’m very fortunate to have played in some big derbies but for me personally, this one tops it. When the draw was made I couldn’t wait for the fixture. When I got the nod to play I just couldn’t wait to step over the white lines and do my best for the club.”

More of this please, Pompey and Saints.

The south coast derby is a gem which teases us every now and then. We want more.

Of course, the intensity bubbles over and there were reports of scuffles after the game, police having to move in and opposition fans clashing in the streets as the rain pelted down on England’s south coast.

If you ever get the chance, one of these derbies at St Mary’s or Fratton Park is a must.

Premier League preview: Newcastle v. Southampton

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  • Southampton have won 3 of their last 4 PL games
  • Newcastle has beaten Southampton just once in last 9 meetings
  • Shane Long has scored in his last 2 matches – has never scored in 3

Both Newcastle and Southampton have the chance to all but secure Premier League safety with a win on Saturday as the Saints travel to St. James Park, live on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE

Southampton has turned a corner under Ralph Hassenhuttl, with eight wins in his first 18 games in charge – as many as the previous two managers put together in 52 league matches. The Saints now sit five points above the relegation zone, and with Cardiff City taking on Liverpool on Sunday, the time is ripe for Southampton to pull away. A victory over Newcastle and a Cardiff City loss would put the Saints eight points clear of the drop, leaving their magic point total for safety at just one over the last three matches.

Hassenhuttl could be without regular defender Jannik Vestergaard who has a groin injury, but otherwise the injury news is light. Midfielder Mario Lemina may not be ready to go from his abdominal injury, having missed all of 2019 so far, but the other injured players in Alex McCarthy, Matt Targett and Charlie Austin are all reportedly ready to go.

Newcastle, on the other hand, can mathematically secure its safety with a win and a Liverpool result, and even a draw will put the hosts in a fantastic position. Sitting two points above Southampton and seven above the drop, there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding manager Rafa Benitez, but they look set to earn Premier League play next season. The Magpies saw their three-match winless run come to an end last time out with a win over Leicester City, but still they have limped down the stretch with just seven points in six Premier League matches since the beginning of March. They too have good injury news, with just the long-term injuries to Florian Lejune and Sean Longstaff the only players struggling coming into the match.

What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on Newcastle’s relegation battle: “I said 38 points [would be enough] a long time ago. Cardiff have won a couple of games [since then], and now it’s even more important for us to win another game, be sure everything is fine and then we can start thinking about how high we can go.”

Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhuttl on Southampton’s relegation battle: “We have been speaking about the 40 points and therefore we need four more. The good thing is I don’t have the feeling my team is leaning back, they stay focused. Although it is a long season so far, I have a feeling they are very hungry, they want to hunt and take more points. That is a good signal for me.”

Prediction

Home field advantage is massive in these games, and Newcastle will relish having the backing of the home fans. Southampton, however, comes into this game in better form, and will be more motivated to earn points to build the gap. The Saints should come away with a 2-0 win in an exciting game between two scrappy teams.

Dyche hammers officials after penalty kick drama

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Burnley received their first penalty kick in 68 games on Saturday, but their manager Sean Dyche was far from happy. 

He wanted two spot kicks.

Ashley Barnes dispatched a 94th-minute spot kick to snatch a 1-1 draw with Burnley’s relegation rivals Southampton, however Barnes looked to have been fouled in the first half by Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy but nothing was given.

Barnes was booked by referee Anthony Taylor for his anger at not getting a penalty kick, and the officials were booed and branded cheats by Burnley’s fans throughout the game.

Dyche didn’t go as far as calling them cheats, but he admitted it was “impossible” that his team weren’t awarded two spot kicks and didn’t win the game.

“Had we come away with nothing today you’d struggle to believe what was going on. The first decision baffles me,” Dyche told the BBC’s Match of the Day. “I am outspoken when people go down too easy. Ashley Barnes had no other choice as the keeper takes the legs away and yet Ashley comes away with a booking.

“But we just kept knocking at the door. We were relentless in our attitude again and that is coming back into our play at speed. The least we deserved was a point. I can’t be any more clear in my idea. That first one was just a plain, simple penalty. I will be amazed if strikers in the studio say it wasn’t a penalty.”

Barnes backed up Dyche’s comments by adding that they “should have won” the game, but there was a hint of luck about their last-gasp penalty kick. Jack Stephens handled the ball as the cross came in, but Peter Crouch was all over him and Crouch did head the ball on to Stephens’ arm from close range.

A draw was probably a fair result in this game, but Saints will no doubt feel that Taylor and his officiating crew were keen to even things up after missing a clear penalty kick in the first half.

Burnley deny Saints amid late penalty drama (video)

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  • Barnes equalizes in 94th minute
  • Redmond put Southampton ahead
  • Burnley six games unbeaten
  • Saints five games unbeaten

Burnley scored a 94th-minute equalizer to make draw 1-1 against Southampton at Turf Moor on Saturday.

Referee Anthony Taylor waved away Ashley Barnes‘ penalty appeals in the first half and Nathan Redmond gave Saints a second half lead. But after Barnes hit the crossbar and Burnley piled on the pressure late in the game, Taylor awarded the Clarets a penalty kick deep into stoppage time.

The penalty kick was the first they’ve received in 68 games.

With the point Burnley and Saints both have 24 points, with Southampton in 16th and one place ahead of their relegation rivals on goal difference.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Southampton had plenty of the ball early on and pinned Burnley back, with Danny Ings set free but Tom Heaton saved brilliantly.

James Ward-Prowse whipped in a cross which Matt Targett couldn’t get on the end of, then Nathan Redmond almost found Callum Slattery moments later.

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Ashley Barnes then went close from a cross, as Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard and Jan Bednarek blocked heroically. Ings then pulled up with an injury and was replaced by Shane Long and Chris Wood had a great chance to but Burnley ahead but after cutting inside he smashed well over.

A massive moment of controversy then arrived as Ashley Barnes was played in over the top and Alex McCarthy came rushing out. Southampton’s goalkeeper appeared to clip Barnes but nothing was given as Burnley’s striker was booked for his wild reaction to not getting a penalty kick.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

At the start of the second half Callum Slattery’s shot was deflected wide and from the resulting corner Phil Bardlsey hooked the ball off the line.

Heaton then denied Ward-Prowse’s header after Targett’s cross but he could do nothing to deny Redmond. The in-form winger surged towards Burnley’s defense, nutmegged Jack Cork and drilled home a low effort from distance to put Southampton ahead.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Deadline Day signing Peter Crouch was sent on for his Burnley debut late in the game and the home side launched plenty of long balls into the box, but McCarthy saved very well from Barnes.

Barnes then went even closer to scoring as he smashed a volley towards goal but it hit the crossbar and flew over.

But Barnes was to have the last laugh as a cross into the box in the 94th-minute saw Jack Stephens handle under pressure from Crouch and Barnes scored the penalty kick to snatch a point.

Zaha scores, sent off as Palace draws Southampton (video)

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  • Zaha, Townsend team up for opener
  • Ward-Prowse lashes in Targett pass for 1-1
  • Zaha gets quickfire, late yellow cards

Wilfried Zaha scored and was sent off at St. Mary’s, as Crystal Palace and Southampton drew 1-1 on Wednesday.

Zaha’s first goal in 17 Premier League matches was overshadowed late when he took the bait of fellow goal scorer James Ward-Prowse and then insulted the referee.

Saints’ point has them three clear of the drop zone, while Palace is 15th with 23 points.

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Zaha spun a low shot past the diving Alex McCarthy after Andros Townsend worked through a foul to get the ball to the Ivorian winger.

Southampton was probably second-best for most of the night, but answered in the 77th minute when he ran onto Matt Targett‘s cutback to slash an equalizer home.

Vicente Guaita made a very good save, flying to slap Stuart Armstrong‘s curling shot away from the frame.

James McArthur then forced McCarthy into a fine save at the other end.

Zaha was given a yellow in the 87th minute, then earned a second by clapping at the referee in the 88th.

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