In 1976 Bobby Stokes broke my heart when he scored the winning goal for Southampton against Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. After 41 years of hurt retribution is in the air because United will be too strong for the Saints in the EFL Cup Final at Wembley on Sunday. In fact the gap in class and current form can see the favourites win the match in 90 minutes by more than one goal.
The competition that has had more names than I care to remember is basically the League Cup. As the name suggests it is the poor relation to the FA Cup because non-league teams are not eligible. Sutton have been in the news this week not because they achieved the rare feat of making the fifth round as a National League team but because the reserve goalkeeper was seen live on TV eating a pie.
There was a massive furore because Sun Bets who were involved in sponsorship of the televised tie with Arsenal pulled a publicity stunt. They were offering 8/1 that the slightly overweight player would be seen eating a pie during the match. He gave some mates the nod and they placed winning bets. I’m not sure if Sun Bets or the local pie shop in Sutton got the best publicity. The man involved got fired so that must go down as the most expensive pie in the history of pie eating.
Now that Piegate is yesterday’s news we can focus on the less controversial issue of by how many goals will United beat Southampton this weekend. They are on a great run of form in all competitions and are now looking more like the side that dominated the Premier League during the Sir Alex Ferguson era. In Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic they have genuine world class talent that will be too good for Southampton to handle. Jose Mourinho appreciates the value of winning trophies and will play a strong team.
Southampton continually punch above their weight despite often losing their best playing and managerial talent. The structure means they find a way to compete regardless who is wearing the shirt and coaching the players. This season they are again becalmed in mid-table comfort, unlikely to get involved in relegation issues and not contenders to qualify for Europe. In 25 games they have scored 28 goals and conceded 31 which is the epitome of average but they will be playing in the Premier League next season and have a Wembley final on their schedule.
The cream usually comes to the top in the latter stages of the FA Cup. During the Premier League era 46 of the 48 finalists have come from the top division and the average finishing position in the league of the Cup winners is fifth. Basically one of the big boys will win the FA Cup but the League Cup is a slightly different kettle of fish. Since 2000 Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Birmingham City and Swansea have won the League Cup and one of the superpowers have won the other 12 finals so they have not been quite as dominant as in the FA Cup Final. However, only four of the 34 finalists since 2000 came from outside the top tier of English football.
Of the 17 League Cup finals that have been contested this century both teams have scored 11 times and there have been over 2.5 goals on 12 occasions. That suggests the odds are slightly in favour of United and Southampton both finding the net in a match with more than two goals. On the assumption that United are more than a goal better than Southampton the most obvious correct score bet would be on 3-1 to the Reds. Ibrahimovic cannot be ignored in the first or anytime scorer markets and Pogba looks a good bet to be the man of the match for which United should be backed giving up a goal in the handicap markets. United have won the League Cup in all its guises five times while Southampton were the losing finalists in 1979.
I’m still convinced if Bobby Stokes had hit his cross shot properly Alex Stepney would have made a save, launched the ball up field where Lou Macari would have nodded the ball onto Stuart Pearson who would score the winning goal. The match gives rise to a sports quiz question: which man has won the FA Cup and the Irish 1,000 Guineas? He will probably be in the crowd at Wembley watching his beloved Southampton lose to Manchester United and his name is Mick Channon.