Stockport County advanced to the Coca-Cola Cup semi-finals last night with a performance that was both spirited and measured. It was a fairly normal outing to the office for the Second Division club: draw Premiership opposition and give them a lesson in the passionate art of knock-out football.
Southampton followed both Blackburn Rovers and West Ham as defeated opponents from the top division and Middlesbrough, who they meet at the penultimate stage, will surely hold no fears now. If they can get past Bryan Robson's team it would be their fifth appearance at Wembley, following two Autoglass Trophy finals and two Divisional play-off finals.
"It's like a cup final for us, getting to where we have," said Stockport's manager, Dave Jones. "But we have proved we can beat Premiership sides over two games in this competition. If they play like they have done so far, who's to say what can happen? It's not as though we were hanging on here, we took the game to them.
"Our secret is good play and hard work. There's a belief in the dressing room that they can beat anyone now. Middlesbrough will feel confident as I remember Bryan Robson saying Stockport was the best tie he could have, but my players will look forward to meeting them."
Jones, who has been with Stockport as coach and manager for nearly seven years in all, works without a contract. His chairman may be about to rectify that shortly. "There's been no time to sign anything with all the games," Jones said.
Stockport's victory was thoroughly merited for they fell a goal behind after only eight minutes. They did not panic nor aimlessly throw men forward, but with a sequence of well-constructed, purposeful attacks gradually broke Southampton's resistance.
The winner was scored four minutes from time by the 30-year-old substitute, Andy Mutch, who had been on the pitch for a few seconds. He made his way into the box and was there on the line to meet Alun Armstrong's diagonal shot from the right as it went under Dave Beasant's body.
"We joked on the bench that I would give Andy a ride in my new car if he got the winner," Jones said. "He'll be getting the ride."
The winner had been coming. From the moment Southampton took the lead, appearing to set the seal on a vibrant start, Stockport were the more adventurous team. Le Tissier - whose viral complaint had threatened to keep him out of the tie - had taken up a menacing position in the area and controlled the ball smartly with his body from Alan Neilson's cross before shooting past Paul Jones from six yards.
Rarely were Stockport's defensive pairing of Mike Flynn and Jim Gannon troubled again. It was Flynn, indeed, who was involved in the early attempts to acquire an equaliser. A diving header and an optimistic back-heel were topped by another header when he out-jumped the defence and forced an uncertain save from Beasant at his left-hand post.
Stockport finished the first half the stronger and their spirit was undiminished by the opposition's tactical readjustments which seemed to involve allowing the Dutchman Ulrich Van Gobbel to use his pace in dashing forward more frequently on the right flank. They had a shot cleared off the line - it took them until the 63rd minute to draw level when Armstrong's shrewd ball in found Brett Angell ready and willing to run on to it.
A flurry of substitutions indicated an urge by both sides to win it before extra time. Stockport had the will, Southampton, increasingly disjointed, had little left to offer. Their manager, Graeme Souness, was speaking only the truth when he said afterwards: "No complaints, they were better than us."
He added tellingly, before turning his thoughts to Manchester United at the weekend: "As a manager, if you feel you're getting everything from your players you go home happy regardless of the result. I'm going home an unhappy man tonight. When you get a result like this it can affect your home life. I'm going to try really hard not to let that happen."
Southampton (3-5-2): Beasant; Van Gobbel, Lundekvam, Monkou; Le Tissier, Oakley (Maddison, 46), Slater (Hughes, 67), Magilton, Neilson; Berkovitch, Ostenstad. Substitute not used: Basham.
Stockport County (4-4-2): Jones; Connelly, Flynn, Gannon, Todd; Cavaco, Dinning, Bennett, Durkan (Jeffers, 68); Armstrong, Angell (Mutch, 83). Substitute not used: Bound.
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).Reuse content