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Report: Lucky escape by Manchester United at St Mary’s

Manchester United managed a narrow 0-1 victory away at Southampton. Fielding an unchanged side to that which defeated Everton 4-0 at Old Trafford in United’s previous fixture, Jose Mourinho appears to be allowing this starting lineup to find a rhythm.

The match sprung into life from the opening whistle, with both teams starting aggressively. Southampton forced United’s back line to deal with long balls over the top, with Eric Bailly seemingly being targeted by Shane Long. Marcus Rashford broke on the counter on a couple of occasions to put pressure on the Southampton back line but United struggled to fashion any clear-cut chances early on. An exchange of speculative, tame shots were easily dealt with by the respective keepers. An exchange of corners, the latter of which went to United, resulted in a Southampton free kick after Marouane Fellaini was judged to have fouled Wesley Hoedt. Replays, however, show that the United player might have been justified in claiming a penalty, as he was pulled down by his marker. There appeared to be little threat in either box early on.

That was until the 20th minute when sustained United possession led to Henrikh Mkhitaryan finding Ashley Young isolated against a single defender on the left-wing, by the byline. Young used a couple of feints to create space on his right foot and deliver a pinpoint cross that was met by Romelu Lukaku’s powerful leap. Fraser Forster managed to save low to his right but parried the ball straight back to the in-form striker who was left with the simple task of finishing at close range.

Late in the first half United would threaten with low crosses first from Mata and then from Lukaku both being blocked before they were able to find their target.

Southampton started positively in the second half, playing with an intensity rarely seen since the first ten minutes of the match. They won two corners by attacking Ashley Young on United’s left flank and had a cross deflected into the arms of David De Gea. A well-worked move by Southampton involving a possible offside lead to a shot on target from Nathan Redmond which De Gea saved well at his near post. United appeared to be happy to sit back and defend but despite a few errors at the back by Southampton United were unable to fashion any chances in the opening 15 minutes of the first half. A header off target by Long and a long shot off target from Steven Davis were further warnings that the tide had turned at St Mary’s.

The one-way traffic prompted a change from Mourinho, bringing on Ander Herrera for Juan Mata to try to gain some control for Manchester United. It almost reaped instant dividends when Hoedt was caught out of position but Lukaku struck directly at Forster’s legs when he was played in by Mkhitaryan. Southampton kept up the pressure, however, winning a corner and forcing Fellaini to clear Oriel Romeu’s header off the line.

Jose Mourinho responded to the Southampton’s change of shape with one of their own. Mkhitaryan made way for Chris Smalling in the 75th minute prompting a change to three at the back to deal with Southampton’s switch to a two striker system. United again threatened following the substitution with Fellaini unable to get on the end of Lukaku’s pass into the box. At the other end, United were carved apart by Southampton but Romeu’s shot just missed the far post.

After fine work on the left by Marcus Rashford, Herrera found himself open just inside the Southampton box but his right foot shot was blazed over just before the 80th minute.

Four minutes of extra time were given by the referee as United settled into their defensive formation. In the 93rd minute, Rashford was substituted to a big ovation from the away fans. He was replaced by Daley Blind which was apt as he had spent the entire second half playing as a second left back. United were fortunate to escape with the three points.

Goals: Romelu Lukaku 21′

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Young; Matic, Fellaini; Mata (Herrera 62′), Mkhitaryan (Smalling 75′), Rashford (Blind 90+2); Lukaku

Substitutes Not Used: Romero; Lingard, Carrick; Martial

Bookings: Ashley Young 43′, Antonio Valencia 69′, Romelu Lukaku 82′, Ander Herrera 88′

Written by David Sagoe

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