The last few days have to be the best days the bookies have had in recent memory with football scores. All weekend, shock after shock results occurred with QPR and Norwich getting beaten at home by lower and none league opposition respectively. Sunday continued the surprises with a clean sweep of shock results. Chelsea drawing away at Brentford, Tottenham losing away at the Leeds scum and the magnificent game and result at a three sided Boundary Park where Liverpool were knocked out of the cup by (come on) Oldham. That afternoon, Brendan Rodgers brief tenure as Liverpool boss reached a new depth as he gallantly blamed the young players in the Liverpool side for letting them down as opposed to his team selection and a choice that he made to leave Steven Gerrard on the bench. United and City both went through with almost mundane efficiency. On the Sunday night draw, United were for the eigth consecutive time, drawn against Premier League opposition in the FA Cup by drawing Reading at home. City were a different class to Stoke and it was only a matter of time before they got a deserved winner, which was scored by the excellent Pablo Zabaletta. That performance was replicated by City last night when they went to Loftus Road and murdered a QPR side 0-0. Another banker gone up the wall and I have rarely been so happy to see a result make a town halls of my fixed odds coupon as I was to see that draw of City’s last night. Tonight, both Liverpool and Chelsea surrendered two goal leads, Chelsea succumbed at Reading to add another fixed odds upset and Liverpool threw away a two goal lead to disrupt recently reached quadragenarian Brendan Rodgers plans to have Liverpool in the top two at the seasons conclusion. United were hot favourites tonight to beat Southampton but United were very, very lucky not to be joining all the other teams previously mentioned in the shock results.
Southampton hadn’t lost a match since a 5-1 home defeat against Chelsea in the FA Cup on the first weekend of January. Southampton recently sacked Nigel Adkins and replaced him with Argentine and ex RCD Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettimo. That’s the same Nigel Adkins who had managed them to succesive promotions and had only 48 hours earlier, recovered a two goal deficit away to the European champions to salvage a very creditable draw. Southampton were burdened with the reviled Rupert Lowe regime before he left the club in 2009. It doesn’t matter who is running the club though, the sacking of Nigel Adkins was a classic case of plus ça change in regards to Southamptons management at board level. The infamous chapter in Len Shackleton’s autobiography about the average directors knowledge of football seems to ring as true now as it did when it was first published in 1956.
Southampton have a habit of inducing goalkeeping howlers at Old Trafford. In November 1988, Jim Leighton had the first of his now notorious mistakes when he let a long range shot from Glenn Cockerill sail over his head for a goal, that he later claimed had been caused by him being dazzled by the floodlights. Massimo Taibi only played four games for United and one of them was in 3-3 draw against the Saints in September 1999. Taibi somehow managed to be nutmegged by a slow moving twenty five yard daisy cutter by Matt Le Tissier and the ball crawled into the goal in front of a disbelieving Scoreboard End. Tonight, David De Gea took just under two minutes to join that company. Michael Carrick was equally culpable for the poor backpass to David De Gea which caused Southamptons goal. That said, De Gea’s half hearted challenge to disposess Jay Rodriguez was comically pathetic as he rounded him to put the ball into an empty net. There’s a feeling amongst some reds that David De Gea is becoming a victim of a witch hunt. They correctly point out that Joe Hart and Pepe Reina make similar mistakes in equal quantity but I don’t really care about the mistakes they make. They point out that De Gea is a young lad which is obviously true but the fact is that United paid £19,000,000 for a goalkeeper, not a potential goalkeeper. It’s a cruel world but whilst mistakes are made by the very best, De Gea is running out of time regarding his. The most concerning thing about De Gea is his obvious lack of authority in his eighteen yard box. His defenders look nervous to me when they play around him and if there is one thing that is crucial for a goalkeeper is to have the trust and confidence of his defence. He is undoubtedly a good shot-stopper with a great instinct for where the ball is going in flight but he appears to be averse to catching the ball or asserting his authority in the box.
A great through ball from Shinji Kagawa laid Wayne Rooney on for an equaliser on 8 minutes to bring some swift relief to the crowd. A Robin Van Persie free kick found Patrice Evra on the far post on 27 Minutes, Evra headed the ball across goal and found Wayne Rooney to put the ball into an unguarded net. My gut feeling at the time was that Rooney was offside, it just looked too easy but having now seen the action replay, the linesman called it right. Southampton were at least worth a draw tonight. They came out in the second half full of aggression and took the game to a disjointed United side and an anxious Old Trafford crowd. In a frantic three minute spell between 74 and 77 minutes, Van Persie produced a world class save from Southampton keeper Artur Boruc at point blank and then seconds later, had a headed goal disallowed on a debatable offside decision. Southampton went straight up to the pitch and Adam Lallana drew a daft foul out of United skipper Nemanja Vidic which earnt the centre half a booking. Ricky Lambert’s goalbound free kick drew a great save out of David De Gea but it was not to be the last heartstopping moment united had tonight. Southampton were playing that well that an anxious Stretford End were imploring “Fergie, Fergie sort it out…”
United held on against a side that Sir Alex Ferguson claimed to be the best side to have visited Old Trafford this season. I disagree, I believe Tottenham were but I do see his point, Southampton played with a devils abandon tonight. Whilst I don’t believe them to be the best side I’ve seen this season, they are by some distance the best Southampton side I’ve seen since play United since Lawrie McMenemy used to bring their team to Old Trafford in the early 1980s with the likes of Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon and David Armstrong always making United earn any points gained.