IBO Reporter : channonite
|One of the things that I have noticed since the pandemic started and we stopped going to matches, is that I get far more nervous watching on TV, or listening on radio, than I ever do at the ground. This was especially true of this fixture, as Manchester United at St.Mary's has always seemed to have been our bogey team. It doesn't seem to matter how rubbish they are, or how good Saints are, we always seem to make a meal of it.
Within minutes of the start, I had the feeling that this was going to be one of those days, as our passing wasn't as crisp and accurate as normal and everything seemed a bit hurried. Maybe they were taking time to settle? But this is not how we play these days, normally coming out of the blocks very quickly and putting the other team under pressure. Instead, it was the other way round, with Greenwood hitting the side netting of McCarthy's goal very early on, when the ManU player got past an unusually tentative Vestergaard. That was a clear warning that United meant business.
For the first 20 minutes of the game Saints were put under increasing pressure and we really didn't seem able to play our normal recycling game, as the United players harried and snapped away at a high tempo.
Against the run of play, Saints won a free kick just inside the United half and JWP sent a teasing ball into the penalty area, which was just headed behind by a United defender for a corner. Needless to say JWP jogged across to take the corner and sent a perfect kick to the near post, where Jan Bednarek flicked a perfect header beyond de Gea. 1-0 and 23 minutes on the clock.
Very soon the pressure was back on Saints and it nearly led to an equaliser, when McCarthy took a back pass from Bednarek and in trying to reach Romeu, only succeeded in finding Greenwood, who strode forward and shot. McCarthy acrobatically parried the shot, but the ball fell to Fernandes. Somehow McCarthy scrambled across on his hands and knees to save point blank from the United player. Astounding double save, but caused by his error in the first place!
No sooner had we got over that, than Bertrand and Djenepo were sprinting down the left and the Malian then ran directly for goal. Just short of the penalty area he was unceremoniously upended by Fred, having evaded two attempts to tackle him. Jon Moss indicated a free kick and James Ward-Prowse stepped up. Just about the perfect free kick was the result, with Ward-Prowse curling the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the net, with de Gea colliding with the post in his efforts to keep it out. That injury was to have ramifications later in the match, but for now he got up, obviously in pain, and carried on. 2-0 and just over half and hour gone.
The rest of the first half consisted of Saints sometimes frantically defending, as United put them under relentless pressure.
As the teams came out ManU had made two changes. The first was because de Gea was obviously too injured to continue and was replaced by Henderson, who spent last season on loan to Sheffield United. The other change was that young Mason Greenwood had been replaced by the vastly experienced ex-PSG player, Edinson Cavani.
Basically, United carried on where they left off, putting Saints under pressure and in fairly short order had carved out a chance that should have been converted. Rashford was clean through, with the unmarked Cavani to his right, but he shot straight at McCarthy, who saved with his legs.
On the hour mark, United finally made their pressure tell, when they seemed to waltz through a series of attempted tackles, ending with Cavani wide on the right, squaring for Fernandes to swivel and score with a simple tap-in. 2-1.
At this point my Saints supporters pessimism returned and I just felt that the team did not know how to cope with the constant press and yet there was no immediate sign of movement from the Saints bench.
The warning signs were there, as Cavani was starting to have more and more impact on the game, sending a glancing header only just wide of the far post.
When the first Saints substitution eventually came, with twenty minutes of normal time left, Ralph managed to take off the one player that seemed to be asking questions of the ManU defence. Djenepo trudged off, to be replaced by Shane Long, who then proceeded to do what? Well, nothing really. Baffling.
Then, with several Saints players looking very tired and Bednarek nursing some sort of back injury, the United players just danced around the static defence and after McCarthy half cleared one shot, by weakly punching it into a crowd of players, it ended with Cavani making a diving header to level the scores. 2-2 and still at least a quarter of an hour, plus time added. Saints looked finished and United had their tails up. We were going to be fortunate to get a point.
Just now and again Saints managed to get possession and in one rare breakout Adams shot narrowly wide. The clock was running down and we were hanging on by our fingernails. At the end of normal time the fourth official indicated that there would be five minutes of extra time. Could we hang on to a point?
The answer came fairly quickly. No. From a free kick Rashford was found on his own on the left and he sent a cross into the box, where Cavani stooped to head past McCarthy for his second of the day and Manchester United's third. 2-3 and that was that. Gutting. After being 2-0 up.
Man of the Match
From this sorry mess there is only one contender for Man of the Match and that is James Ward-Prowse, who was the assist for the first goal and scored the second from yet another perfect free kick.