Goalscorers: Shola Ameobi 7, James Beattie 19, Lee Bowyer 35, Titus Bramble 39 OG, Leandre Griffit 88, Darren Ambrose 90
Southampton: Alan Blayney, Stephen Crainey, Claus Lundekvam (Darren Kenton 36), Fitz Hall, Paul Telfer, David Prutton, Fabrice Fernandes (Leandre Griffit 81), Yoann Folly, Anders Svensson, James Beattie, Brett Ormerod (Kevin Phillips 74)
Newcastle United: Shay Given, Oliver Bernard, Titus Bramble (Michael Bridges 90), Aaron Hughes, Steven Caldwell, Gary Speed, Darren Ambrose, Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer (Laurent Robert 75), Shola Ameobi, Alan Shearer
Referee: Graham Poll, Attendance: 31,815
The final issue of the 2003-2004 season left up for grabs was who was going to finish in fourth position and therefore, claim the final qualifying spot for the following season’s UEFA Champions League. Newcastle United arrived at Southampton off the back of a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to already relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers. They had to win at St Mary’s to force a final day showdown at Anfield with their qualification rivals, Liverpool FC.
Newcastle made the better start against a Saints’ side that were cruising towards the end of the season. Shola Ameobi showed greater strength in a tussle with Claus Lundekvam and once he won that, he finished coolly into the bottom corner past Premier League debutant Alan Blayney in the Southampton goal. Blayney was appearing because a virus had struck down no.1 keeper Antti Niemi.
Southampton had nothing to lose and it wasn’t like Newcastle had the best defensive record, so this match always looked like it was going to promise goals. Three more were scored in the first half to ensure the sides went it 2-2 at the break. First, James Beattie tapped in after Shay Given failed to hold onto Anders Svensson’s shot. 10 minutes before half-time, Sir Bobby Robson’s team were back infront. Lee Bowyer arrived late in the box to smack a strike past Blayney. It was only Bowyer’s second Premier League goal of the season since joining from West Ham United in the summer of 2003.
Southampton were the better team though for the majority of the first half, especially after getting onto level terms and they ensured that is how the teams’ would be at the interval. Fabrice Fernandes fired a cross into the box which clumsily went into the net off the leg of Titus Bramble. Once again, defensive errors were costing Newcastle dear as it had for most of their league campaign.
The goals might have dried up in the second half but the action certainly didn’t. Steven Caldwell crashed a header against the crossbar and when Darren Ambrose’s drive from distance ended up with a similar outcome, the travelling Toon Army support must have begun to think it wasn’t going to be their night. More so when Blayney made remarkable saves to deny Alan Shearer and Bowyer.
Then, with three minutes left, Southampton sealed the Magpies’ fate. Substitute Leandre Griffit shook off Oliver Bernard and squeezed the ball in-between Given’s legs for his first Premier League goal. Newcastle were never going to score two goals in stoppage-time, were they? They managed one, with Ambrose drilling one home with basically the last kick of the match but it finished 3-3 and that sealed Liverpool’s Champions League spot. Robson would last another five matches before being dismissed in late August 2004. Southampton lost their final match of the season at Charlton and would ultimately finish in 12th position.