Southampton put their Wembley humbling behind them with a well earned draw away to Man Utd this evening.
Mauricio Pellegrino’s men showed the grit and determination that they have lacked in recent weeks, blunting a Manchester United attack who rarely threatened the Saint’s goal in the whole 90 minutes.
United’s best chance fell to Romelu Lukaku in just the third minute, with the Belgian heading Juan Mata’s cross over the bar after the Spaniard brilliantly controlled Paul Pogba’s pinpoint long pass.
Saints responded through James Ward-Prowse after Sofiane Boufal beat the offside trap with a well timed run in behind the Utd defence, David de Gea making a smart save down to his left.
Lukaku departed the field in a neck brace following a clash with Wesley Hoedt just seven minutes in, replaced by Marcus Rashford, but United laboured as Southampton defended resolutely.
Former Saint Luke Shaw looked lively in the first half, playing a neat one-two with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and putting in one of several teasing crosses that his teammates failed to take advantage of. In the second, his many misplaced passes epitomised his side’s lacklustre display.
Shane Long was his usual industrious self, selflessly chasing down lost causes and earning a a cheap foul off Victor Lindelöf 17 minutes in, de Gea comfortably saving Ward-Prowse’s resulting free kick.
A promising United breakaway broke down through Mkhitaryan’s poor cross after his side raced from one end of the field to another following a Southampton corner. Mata fed Rashford well, who drove at the visitor’s defence only for Mkhitaryan to fluff his lines .
Hoedt should have worked the ‘keeper with a free header inside the box twenty minutes in, but could only head Ward-Prowse’s corner wide.
Alex McCarthy made an excellent save with his feet to deny Rashford with 25 minutes on the clock, the ball then rebounding kindly into the young Englishman’s hands off of Sam McQueen. The Saints stopper enjoyed a solid game, coming into the side for his first Premier League start since March 2016 and will likely keep the goalkeeping jersey following Fraser Forster’s indifferent form.
Utd had a big penalty shout waved away by Craig Pawson, with Maya Yoshida handling the ball after Jesse Lingard cleverly flicked the ball over his head in the Southampton area. While his hand was raised, the Japanese defender couldn’t have meant it since the ball ricocheted off of his teammate, giving him no time to react.
The visitors dug in towards the end of the first half, with Lingard’s deft header drifting just wide of McCarthy’s post and Nemanja Matic’s shot from distance comfortably saved by the Englishman.
Saints had the better of the second period, with Long denied by de Gea’s feet after he met Ward-Prowse’s low cross. The Irishman did well to cut across Matic and met the ball firmly, only for the United goalie to deny Long who now has no goal in 28 games.
Mkhitaryan was hooked off for Anthony Martial an hour in, as Ashley Young’s free kick ricocheted wide off the Southampton wall and the visitors continued to frustrate Jose Mourinho’s side.
In fact, for much of the second half it was Saints pressing for the opener, with Dusan Tadic heading over from Boufal’s cross and then hitting a tame shot from the edge of the box well wide.
Man United went up a gear towards the end of the game with Rashford’s poke towards goal blocked by the excellent Sam McQueen just a few yards out.
Pogba had the ball in the back of the net following Young’s free kick, but was correctly adjudged to be offside after ball bounced around in the box.
Saints dug in for the last few minutes, with Hoedt, Jack Stephens and Yoshida taking turns to deny the home side from snatching an unearned late winner.
All in all, this was an assured performance by Southampton, who could easily have nicked all three points themselves. Saints defended well, were organised and created a couple of good chances. Where they were bullied by Tottenham on Boxing Day, they fought well today and deserved their point.
Pellegrino will hope this game and performance marks a turnaround in his team’s fortunes, who sit just two points above the drop zone. With a crucial run of fixtures ahead, starting at home to Crystal Palace on Tuesday, the Saints board will be looking closely to see if the squad is fighting for the manager.
With Virgil van Dijk’s world record transfer fee reportedly due to be reinvested straight back into the squad, decisions will need to be made as to whether or not they back a manager who has had a poor start to his Southampton tenure.
Man Utd: de Gea; Young, Lindelöf, Jones, Shaw; Pogba (c), Matic; Mata, Mkhitaryan (Martial 65), Lingard; Lukaku (Rashford 14).
Subs: Rojo, Martial, Blind, Rashford, Romero, Herrera, Tuanzebe.
Saints: McCarthy; Stephens, Yoshida (c), Hoedt, McQueen; Romeu, Højbjerg; Tadic (Lemina 82), Ward-Prowse, Boufal (Redmond 85); Long (Gabbiadini 80).
Subs: Davis, Lemina, Gabbiadini, Redmond, Pied, Bednarek, Forster.