Cedric

Southampton secure crucial win, beat Norwich

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SOUTHAMPTON — Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s Southampton beat Norwich City 2-1 at St Mary’s Stadium as the hosts held on for a vital win in a proper relegation battle.

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Danny Ings and Ryan Bertrand put Saints 2-0 up and they totally dominated the game until Teemu Pukki struck to set up a nervy finish.

Southampton did hold on to secure back-to-backs wins for the first time since March, which have propelled Southampton out of the relegation zone as they now have 15 points. Norwich remain in 19th are now four points below Southampton.


3 things we learned

1. Local lad Ings on fire: Danny Ings is one of their own, and he is their best hope of staying up this season. Ings has scored 10 goals this season and after a terrible run of injuries, he is fit and firing. Ings grew up a few miles from St Mary’s and he has now scored in Saints’ last four PL games, as they face Newcastle, Villa and West Ham next. If he can keep this run going, Saints can start looking up the table and away from the bottom three.

2. Hasenhuttl’s anniversary celebrated with high press: It has been one year since Hasenhuttl took charge of Southampton and there have been lots of ups and downs. His anniversary was celebrated with the way he wanted to play, as Saints pressed Norwich high in the first half and that won them the game. Hasenhuttl then made smart subs, just like he did in the big win against Watford, to see out the game. The Austrian continues to learn how to do get it done as Saints’ back-to-back wins marked his one-year in charge in style.

3. Cantwell and Pukki are Norwich’s best hope: Cantwell’s runs caused Saints problems and the one decent chance Pukki had he finished it. Norwich’s two stars from this season almost grabbed them a point, but it was too little too late for Daniel Farke‘s men who played without the attacking panache they’ve showed throughout this season.

Man of the Match: Danny Ings – He ran Norwich ragged in the first half and set the tone for Saints’ front line. Ings is on fire, is clinical and aside from his scoring he sets the trap for their high-press. He is Southampton’s talisman.


Southampton started well as they pinned Norwich back but Kenny McLean had the first real chance of the game but he dragged a shot just wide.

At the other end Shane Long was causing problems as his header was on target and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg took an age to shoot when running through on goal.

Southampton took the lead as James Ward-Prowse‘s free kick was flicked in at the near post by red-hot Ings to send St Mary’s wild.

Before the break Norwich tried to get back into the game with Todd Cantwell pulling the strings but at the other end Moussa Djenepo fired just over for Saints. Ings had a shot deflected wide for a corner before the break as the home side continued to look the more dangerous. They doubled their lead from that corner as Long flicked the ball on to Bertrand who made it 2-0.

Hojbjerg forced Tim Krul into a fine stop before the break as the hosts dominated the first half.

At half time Norwich made a double change with Marco Stiepermann and Alex Tettey coming on for Ibrahim Amadou and Tom Trybull as Canaries boss Daniel Farke try to spring his side into life.

A massive moment in the game arrived as Shane Long was clearly pushed in the back by Max Aarons but no penalty kick was given and VAR wasn’t used.

Norwich improved as Pukki came into the game and forced Alex McCarthy to save, then Ings smashed a volley inches wide of the far post.

Pukki then buried his first chance of the game as one ball from Tettey carved open the Southampton defense and the Canaries were back in it.

Cedric smashed a shot on goal which Krul saved as Saints tried to hit Norwich on the break with Nathan Redmond also going close, but the Canaries were dominant in the final minutes of the game.

Sam Byram lashed wide late on as Southampton held on for a vital three points which secured wild scenes at the final whistle.

EURO 2020: Switzerland, Denmark qualify; Ireland into playoffs

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Denmark, Switzerland and Ireland, the top three teams in Group D, could have finished 2020 European Championship qualification in any one of six permuted orders following Monday’s final round of fixtures, with the top two sides heading straight through to this summer’s tournament and third-place nation going the dreaded playoffs route.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

Everything was all set up for a dramatic final day, for prayers to be answered and heartbreak to occur. First-place Denmark visiting third-place Ireland facing one another head-to-head added an even greater level of intrigue of potential for a massive swing in the final standings.

In the end, Ireland came ever so close to causing colossal chaos. Everything finished effective just as it began, with Switzerland and Denmark securing automatic qualification after swapping places and Ireland heading down the road less desired.

Denmark got there by way of a 1-1 draw with Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. The Danes took the lead through Martin Braithwaite in the 73rd minute and appeared destined to finish top of the group after missing the competition in 2016, but Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Matt Doherty headed home to equalize in the 85th. Ireland had a pair of chances after that, but Kasper Schmeichel held firm and saw Denmark over the line.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

Switzerland took care of business with hardly a worry in the world, as the hammered Gibraltar to the tune of 6-1. Cedric Itten put the Swiss ahead after 10 minutes, though the game remained 1-0 early into the second half. Ruben Vargas made it 2-0 in the 50th minute, followed by a goal from Christian Fassnacht in the 57th. Gibraltar got one back in the 74th, before Loris Benito, Itten and Granit Xhaka each added another in the final 15 minutes.

As things stand, Switzerland will be placed into Pot 2 for the group stage draw, while Denmark would go into Pot 3.

Southampton: ‘The whole country is laughing at us’

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Southampton’s players are still reeling from their shocking 9-0 defeat to Leicester City last week.

[ MORE: Saints donate wages after humiliation ]

The heaviest defeat in Saints’ 133-year history was also the biggest-ever away win in the top-flight of the English Football League, and equalled the largest ever win in Premier League history.

You get it, it was bad.

Speaking after their 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in the League Cup on Tuesday, Southampton’s goalscorer Jack Stephens admitted the past few days have been incredible tough for everyone involved with the club.

“It’s been a really tough few days, but not just for us, for everyone: the staff, the club, the fans and everyone in the city,” Stephens told BBC Radio Solent. “The whole country has been laughing at us and I’m sure there were a lot of people expecting us to concede a lot of goals against Manchester City. It was tough for us to come here, but I thought we showed a lot of character and fight. When it went 2-0 in the first half, after Friday, it would have been very easy to give up like we did on Friday. It was important that we stood up and stuck together.”

Umm, Jack, hate to be the bearer of bad news but the Leicester game was broadcast across the globe and there are plenty of smart remarks about Saints across the world right now. Not just the UK…

Saints can take little solace in the fact that an understrength City didn’t score more than three goals on them, but goalkeeper Alex McCarthy had to make several big stops and Southampton barely got out of their own half in the first half.

Confidence did start to come back, but only after Man City were 3-0 up and cruising and took their foot off the accelerator a little.

Next up for Southampton: Man City away, again, in the Premier League on Saturday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). So, they are expected to remain in the relegation zone and Ralph Hasenhuttl clearly has a huge job on his hands to repair the damage done at St Mary’s last week.

But on the horizon they do have games coming up which, at least on paper, you’d fancy them to get a few wins from. After another daunting trip to the Etihad Stadium this weekend to play Man City they face Everton, Watford and Norwich at home, with trips to Arsenal and Newcastle in their next five. Aside from Arsenal, those are teams all around them in the table.

The next few weeks will define how Southampton’s season will go. Are they going to feel sorry for themselves? Or are they going to dig deep and win three or four games to drag themselves out of the bottom three?

How could Saints lineup for that pivotal run of games? Here’s a look at a projected starting lineup, one which sees plenty of youngsters given their chance to replace players who have clearly failed to deliver week in, week out.

The likes of Bertrand, Vestergaard, Yoshida, Romeu and Long have been left out of the lineup below, with the focus being on youngsters given a chance and more attacking players selected. Hasenhuttl’s high-pressing system hasn’t been seen consistently this season and neither has his preferred 4-2-2-2 lineup.

In the projected lineup below only four players who started against Leicester remain…


Potential Southampton starting XI (Hasenhuttl’s preferred 4-2-2-2)

—– McCarthy —–

Cedric — Bednarek — Danso — Vokins —

—- Hojbjerg —- Slattery —- 

— Boufal — Djenepo —

— Ings — Redmond —

Subs: Gunn, Danso, Smallbone, Valery, Adams, Obafemi, Nlundulu


Premier League Preview: Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Man United in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is set to be filled with jam-packed actions, as Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, andManchester United all look to climb up the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Southampton vs. Chelsea — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Desperate for points, it is likely both Southampton and Chelsea will go for the jugular on Sunday at St Mary’s Stadium.

Coming off of a 2-1 win against Lille in Champions League play, Frank Lampard‘s men are in better spirits, but then again, their season has been riddled with inconsistency. The quintessential embodiment of that is N’Golo Kante, who has been riddled with injuries all season, but is expected to go on Sunday, according to Lampard.

“It’s something we’ll have to watch over the next 24, 48 hours to make sure he’s okay,” Lampard said on Friday. “All the players are on a semi-recovery program after the Lille game but it’s also the fact he hasn’t played much.”

“In terms of the injury, he’s fine and there was no fallout with that from the Lille game so it’s just about making sure he’s fit and ready, which is a call for me to make,” he added.

The home side, on the other hand, have lost two consecutive league games, and are only a point clear of the red line. The Saints, whose last league win at home dates back to last season, won’t count on Cedric Soares or Moussa Djenepo. No pressure, Ralph Hasenhüttl.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Cedric Soares (calf), Moussa Djenepo (thigh)| Chelsea — OUT: Emerson (thigh), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Antonio Rüdiger (groin), Marco Van Ginkel (knee)

 Arsenal vs. Bournemouth — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Mezut Ozil is nowhere to be found, and Arsenal are on a seven-game unbeaten run. Welcome to the Unai Emery era, which writes a new chapter on Sunday as it hosts Bournemouth.

Fueled by newcomer Gabriel Martinelli‘s brace, the Gunners routed Standard Leige, 4-0, at Emirates Stadium on Thursday. It is the ideal result the North London side needed ahead of Sundays match, but it is misleading in a sense. Despite the positive results, one thing remains true of Arsenal: an unreliable backline. In seven games, the Gunners have allowed 11 goals, a total count that is only one off their goals scored through the seven-game stretch.

Bournemouth, too, have been in worse shape in the past. In September, Eddie Howe‘s side were unbeaten in league play. The Cherries, injured riddles and all, will look to use their current positive run and their previous experiences at the Emirates to their advantage on Sunday.

“What we have to do from our previous visits to the Emirates is start better,” Howe said. “We’ve conceded early goals, which have made the games even harder for us. So if we can start stronger, show a better resolve early in the game, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Alexandre Lacazette (ankle) | Bournemouth — OUT: David Brooks (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), Chris Daniels (knee), Adam Smith (hamstring), Junior Stanislas (hamstring)

Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

If Manchester City’s loss at Norwich City in September wasn’t a wake-up call, then who knows what a wake-up call is.

Since their historical woeful night then, Pep Guardiola and company haven’t looked back, winning five consecutive games. City will be without Kevin De Bruyne once again, but as their recent run has showed, there is no lack of firepower from the defending champions. That said, the Spanish manager is aware that against Wolves, any team should be cautious.

“Yesterday they took an incredible result,” Guardiola said about Wolves’ Europa League performance midweek. “I saw the game and they were so solid as expected. At the end, they have a team to make you suffer in the Premier League.”

“They know exactly what they have to do, three or four seasons together and there is a really impressive defensive structure,” he added. “We have to be smart to take a result. ”

Wolves, the outright underdog on Sunday, are far from meeting the expectations set on them, taking up the 15th spot on the league’s table. Recently, with the helpful of more efficient attack and sturdier backline, the Wolves find themselves on a four-game unbeaten streak. Will that be enough to hold off City? Probably not.

INJURIES: Manchester City — OUT: Leroy Sane (knee), Aymeric Laporte (knee), John Stones (thigh), Kevin De Bruyne (hamstring)| Wolves — OUT: None

Newcastle United vs. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s visit to St. James’ Park poses as the ideal scenario for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United to send a message of intent and crawl out of the 11th spot, which has made club officials the lighting rod for criticism.

Without Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Anthony Martial to name a few, the Red Devils will have their work cutout in front of them in one of the league’s most intimidating atmospheres. Still, win on Sunday can serve as the turning point Solskjaer has been looking for all along.

“Of course you don’t enjoy not winning games,” he told Sky Sports. “You put your heart, life and soul into this job. If you win games you are happier, your mood changes but it doesn’t mean your performances have been better – results change mood.”

“For us to get a result [at Newcastle] is vital now,” the manager added. “I think it will change the mood.The boys can go away on their international break and freshen up their heads.”

The Norwegian’s counterpart on Sunday, Steve Bruce, too, is in charge of guiding his club out of internal turmoil. For Bruce, however, who has led Newcastle to only one win this season, the seat is much warmer, and he acknowledges that the pressure  for him to turn the results around continues to worsen.

“Mud has been thrown my way since I walked through the door, that’s not going to change,” Bruce said heading into Sunday’s match. “The only thing that can change it for me is results. I’m determined, if I possibly can, to turn it around and take the club forward. That has been my remit since I arrived.”

“I’m a resilient so and so,” he added. “You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t affect you in some sort of way but you try and get on with your job as best you can. These days you don’t get the time that you would like to get, you have to get results instantly. The flack always stops with me at the top of the tree but that’s the way the job is.”

INJURIES: Newcastle United  OUT: Matt Ritchie (ankle), Florian Lejeuene (knee) | Manchester United  OUT: Paul Pogba (ankle), Anthony Martial (thigh), Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Phil Jones (unknown), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (illness)

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.