Sunday, 30 January 2011

Mighty United Edge Brave Saints

125 Years of Southampton Football Club
Memories of the 1976 Cup final were always going to be in the minds of every Southampton fan up and down the country. Could Southampton do the unthinkable and knock out a Man Utd team that have only lost once this season? Well, no they couldn't, but they pushed the mighty United all the way and deserved more than a defeat.

Saints played this game with no fear and with nothing to lose. They were massive underdogs but they certainly did not look it at times. The first 45 minutes were easily Southampton's as they controlled the game with some slick passing, nice touches and timely runs. Dan Harding, playing at left-back for Saints, was particularly effective running down the wing and caused John O'Shea all sorts of issues. In fact, Harding had the ball in the Man Utd net early on, only to see his effort ruled out for offside.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked every bit as good as the papers are saying he is and was giving the United midfield and back four plenty to think about with his pace and eye for a pass. Morgan Schneiderlin, so often Southampton's “get-out-of-jail” player in the holding midfield position, was as assured against this United side as he is week in week out in League One. He is a class act and deserves to play at a higher level. Richard Chaplow provided the forward momentum from the centre of midfield while Lambert used his size and strength to hold up the ball. Butterfield also had a great game at right-back.

I couldn't really pick out a player from the United team that had a good first half apart from Fabio who, like Harding for Saints, provided United with plenty of running from his left-back position. Why were United so poor? You could argue that they were not playing some of their best players, but to their credit, Southampton were making it very hard for them to do anything at all. They had no time on the ball and they were out-jumped and out-fought across the pitch.

Saints continued to probe at the Man Utd defence until, with only moments remaining in the first half, they made a deserved breakthrough. Chaplow followed his own throw-in on the right side of the pitch and, when the ball was headed back in his direction, he controlled the ball nicely before he let fly from around 12 yards with a monster of a volley that flew past Lindegaard in the United goal.

Chaplow smashes home the opener
1-0 to Saints at half time!

The second half was always going to be more difficult for Southampton after that goal. United were going to come at them harder than ever to find an equaliser. A United that included Nani, Giggs, Rooney and Berbatov on the bench. Fergie still had plenty of options and talent at his disposal.

The second 45 minutes started much like the first, with Southampton in control. However, Saints were not making as many runs, in an effort to conserve some energy that they would surely need in the latter stages of the game. This allowed Man Utd more time on the ball and that meant they started to create chances. At around the 60 minute mark, Fergie introduced Ryan Giggs and Nani, two of his best players and the difference they made was almost immediate. Nani's pace and trickery made life very difficult for Butterfield who had been so solid up to that point and Ryan Giggs' accurate passing was finding gaps in the Saints' back four. The difference in class was beginning to show.

Owen: Still a deadly finisher.
It took United only five minutes, once Nani and Giggs were on the pitch, to score. A cross from Obertan on the right ricocheted off a Saints body in the box and Owen reacted quickest to put a great header past Bialkowski in the Southampton net.

65 Mins – 1-1

10 minutes later, United made it 2-1. More sloppy play, this time from substitute Ryan Dickson, meant that Giggs found himself with the ball on the edge of the Saints 18 yard box. His perfectly weighted pass found Hernandez inside the box and he put a lovely finish past the onrushing Bialkowski. Dickson held his head in shame and I think at that point the crowd at St Mary's realised that the fairytale was over. United had only had two proper chances and had taken them both.

However, once more to the credit of the League One side, they did not just give up. In fact, Southampton continued to make some chances and nearly found an equaliser late on after a well worked corner between Chamberlain and Harding ended up with the ball flashing just wide of the United post.

The game ended with Man Utd winning 2-1 but that did not matter to the 28,000 Saints fans inside St. Mary's. They were magnificent all day and had kept St Mary's rocking for 94 minutes plus.

Those Southampton players who played today all walked off the pitch with their heads held high. They played hard and with passion and matched, if not outclassed, the best team in England for most of the game. They played proper football, keeping the ball on the ground and played with intelligence. In the end it was not to be but the future is very, very bright.

The Squads:

Southampton (4-3-3): Bialkowski; Butterfield, Fonte, Seaborne, Harding; Guly (N’Guessan 80), Chaplow (Gobern 83), Schneiderlin, Chamberlain; Barnard (Dickson 73), Lambert.

Subs not used: Davis, Richardson, Martin, Doble.

Goals: Chaplow 43

Manchester United (4-3-3) then (4-4-2): Lindegaard; O’Shea, Smalling, Evans, Fabio da Silva (Brown 45); Anderson (Nani 58), Gibson (Giggs 58), Scholes, Obertan; Owen, Hernandez.

Subs not used: Kuszczak, Bebe, Rooney, Berbatov.

Goals: Owen 65, Hernandez 75

Referee: Martin Atkinson

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