Saints 2-3 Man United
After a week of frantic activity around the transfer window, Saints made 9 changes to face Manchester United: however this was to the Capital One side and the only new face to make the teamsheet was Mayuka on the bench. It was the best place to be in the opening exchanges, as United only reluctantly gave Southampton an occassional touch of the ball.
This was not unusual: the team followed up a wary start against both Ajax and Manchester’s other team by gaining an increasing amount of possession. On this occasion, we also got a goal, when Puncheon’s cross found Lambert marked not by Vidic or Ferdinand, but the less imposing figure of Rafael: only one possible result in this contest for a header.
United were level on 23 minutes with a goal by Van Persie which won praise on MotD, whereas Clyne’s slip in the build up was as critical. That can happen to anyone, but for Clyne to do this twice in the first half makes you wonder if a better choice of footwear might have helped.
Evra would have been thinking the same thing early in the second half, when his fall allowed Schneiderlin a free header from Lambert’s cross, and even this very occasional finisher converted.
All to play for, then, and Saints were actually matching their opponents in every department – including in goal, where Davis kept up his 100% penalty save record this season when faced with Van Persie’s too-clever-by-far effort.
Not really the occasion for a triple substitution, then, but Nigel has his bad habits, and three fine performers (Puncheon, Lambert and Lallana) gave way for an unreliable figure (Guly), someone yet to find his place in the system (Rodriguez) and someone we’d never seen before (Mayuka). I can’t think that was helpful, especially as United introduced the highly influential Scholes against Davis and Ward-Prowse who must have been tiring after a terrific shift in midfield.
Still, time was on our side, and it wasn’t until the 88th minute when the defence failed to come out after a partially cleared corner, and Ferdinand wasn’t tracked as he hit a free header onto the post: Van Persie scored on the rebound.
In added time, another corner was Southampton’s final undoing, with a fine header by Van Persie completing his hat trick on a day when this was the only goal of five that would not have been prevented by even average defending.
: Rickie Lambert for a goal and an assist against one of the title favourites. Having come close against City and United, I’d put my money on Chelsea, though.