A party atmosphere for a glorious homecoming, following last season's heady exploits. Season tickets sales at St Mary's up 4,000 to 22,000, the terraces looking like a veritable red-and-white striped deckchair, such has been the volume of replica shirts sold, and a European draw to look forward to later this week. For Southampton, let the good times - and the goals with their new strike partnership - roll.
Except Birmingham City were in town and the party was well and truly pooped. And no-one poops a party these days like the Blues. Not that they were negative - far from it, in fact - and with both clubs entertaining upwardly-mobile aspirations there were chances aplenty, especially for the visitors who were denied what their manager, Steve Bruce, later described as "a stonewall penalty" after Graeme Le Saux brought down David Dunn. Gordon Strachan agreed, before adding that his team's performance left him with a "big stupid bottom lip on".
Not that, judging from the game's opening the Southampton manager would have expected to end it in a sulk. Although James Beattie was hacking the ball away from his own line, after Geoff Horsfield made a hash of Dunn's clever build-up, within seconds of the kick-off, the striker was soon down at the other end cannoning his shot off the crossbar after calmly chesting down Le Saux's ball in. Earlier, another excellent cross by the left-back, who had a tetchy game and was booked, had found Michael Svensson free, but his diving header went wide.
It was a confident start from both sides although as Birmingham pushed on, making light of the injured Christophe Dugarry, the home side appeared to falter. Stern John's goal-bound header was cleared and Horsfield, again showing his lack of guile, hoofed over a knock-down when he needed to show composure.
"Was the weight of expectation after last term taking its toll?" Strachan was asked. "Maybe," he said. "But you should be above that as a football player." It might have been lifted if Kevin Phillips, making his full debut, done better with three headed chances near the end of the first half - one skimmed his forehead, another went weakly into the goalkeeper's arms and a third flew over.
It was Dunn, a £5.5m signing, who was the most effective performer, however. Time and again he cleverly found and used space, although he was involved in a bizarre spat with the eternally infuriating Robbie Savage - there is apparent enmity between them - over a free-kick. The former Blackburn Rovers player was finally allowed to take one and, with a curling shot, forced a fine save by Paul Jones at full stretch. He then suffered even worse luck as he wriggled past Le Saux only to be chopped down. "I said last week that usually decisions even themselves up," Bruce said, referring to the fortuitous penalty awarded against Tottenham last Saturday.
"But I did not think it would happen in just seven days." Still, Birmingham had one more chance. The substitute Clinton Morrison, making his first appearance since March, was played clear inside the area but a hesitant shot struck the goalkeeper's legs. For Southampton, there was no response. And that was it - except, of course, for one thing. Savage was booked. After all, no party would be complete without a pooper.
Southampton 0 Birmingham City 0
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