Manchester United v Southampton
Wembley - Sunday, 26th February 2017
> Gabbiadini scores a hat-trick, but his first is wrongly disallowed
> Somehow Manchester United contrive to win
> The ManU fans were surprisingly colourless and joyless
IBO Reporter : Spot51
Watching the match at home I was racking my brains to remember the last time I watched Saints away from St Mary’s. Of course, it was at Cardiff in 2003 but before that? In my 40s, on good money and with free petrol for my company car, I did away games all over the country. In 1998 my Mum died and I was obliged to stop gallivanting and take charge of the family. I don’t think I have watched Saints anywhere other than at home (or Cardiff) since.
I had enough home games on my purchase history to get me an EFL Final ticket but doubted I’d be able to go. Then I heard French Chris was looking for one, so I did the decent thing. It was Sky TV for Drew and I.
Sky’s studio pundits were Matt Le Tiss, Phil Neville and the “neutral” Jamie Redknapp. Jamie was at the big screen demonstrating how Romeu was the key to Saints succeeding. There was a big focus on 1976 and they wheeled out Lawrie Mac and Nick Holmes who were there and Franny Benali, who was 7 and watched it with his family on TV.
Claude looked very smart when he was interviewed. He smirked when the Sky bloke mentioned he had selected his first unchanged team since his appointment. Much was made of our fortnight off and week in Spain.
United on the other hand made 6 changes. It was pointed out to Jose that no United manager had ever won a trophy in his first season. He just shrugged and looked supercilious. The pundits all agreed that it was about time Pogba performed like the world’s most expensive footballer in a “big game”.
The commentary team were Martin Tyler and Gary Neville. The teams emerged to a monster rendition of OWTS and during the National Anthem the cameras showed our English players belting it out.
Tadić took the kick off with Saints attacking the “United end”. Our team looked fabulous in their white shirts – who cannot love such a smart looking side? After the initial to-ing and fro-ing Saints mounted an attack down the left and the resulting cross almost found Gabbiadini (who from now on I shall call Gabbi).
United’s first attack, on 4m, saw Ibrahimovic (who I’ll refer to as Ibra) set up Pogba who shot from distance. It was travelling but close enough to Forster to punch away. To me the game was looking evenly balanced, but GNev was getting quite excited about how well Saints were pressing and recovering the ball. Gabbi was looking threatening and came within a whisker of panicking Bailly into giving up the ball on the edge of his box.
Wembley is too large a pitch to press in the opponents’ half and Saints began to drop a bit deeper allowing United to enjoy more possession. On 7m Ibra pursued a long ball into our box but Fraser reached it first and dropped to smother it.
Saints were passing nicely on both flanks. On 9m Redmond cut in from the left and his shot deflected off Herrera for a corner. Tadic took it from our right but Rojo put it behind. JWP was on corner duty on our left. His cross led to an exchange of head-tennis until Pogba put his boot through it to clear.
On 11m another left wing move saw Bertie running beyond Bailly before drilling the ball low and hard along the ground. The ball went past everyone and was pursued out of United’s box by Rojo. Although he reached the ball first, Cédric was immediately in his face: the Portuguese won the ball and carried it back into the box with Rojo in his wake. The Argentine tried to tackle from behind and GNev reckoned, had Cédric gone down, it was a stonewall penalty. He stayed upright and drove a lovely low cross which Gabbi met and turned in. As he wheeled away he saw the lino had his flag up.
The replays showed Gabbi was clearly onside. Bertie was stood in an offside position but was not interfering with pay. The officials had got their first big decision wrong and I was not even shocked. I’ve watched football for well over 50 years and I know that teams like Saints don’t get the rub of the green against teams like United. You can bet your life, had Ibra scored that goal down the other end, it would not have been chalked off.
With the contest ruined, Saints continued to dominate play. Again Redmond came in from the left but his shot was pulled well wide. Then on 18m United mounted and attack and, not for the first time this season, Romeu stuck out a lazy leg, upending Herrera, getting himself booked and giving United a free kick in a very central position.
Since Sunday I’ve watched the highlights again and listened to various pundits going through the entrails of the game. I can therefore reveal insights that I did not appreciate at the time. It seemed obvious that Ibra fancied this. Pogba was lurking but Ibra had no intention of giving anyone else a go. As he placed the ball you could see him giving instructions to Mata who slowly made his way towards our wall. He positioned himself next to Steve Davis leaving a 4-5 foot “dent” in our wall, about a foot shorter than the rest of it.
Ibra is such a great technician that he aimed right for this gap. Mata spun out of the way and the ball flew over Davis’ head and beyond the dive of Forster. 1-0 United. GNev was particularly critical of our keeper; he reckoned Fraser moved too slowly and ought to have saved a shot a yard inside his post. So Saints had finally conceded in this season’s EFL cup.
If Saints were dismayed it didn’t show. The team in white continued to move forwards and threaten United. On 21m the lively WP won a corner which Tadic took. His cross went too long and allowed Mata to clear.
On 24m Herrera was booked for fouling Redmond. Saints did not capitalise and United mounted an attack. Lingard tried to find Ibra breaking into our box but Maya easily outpaced the big Swede and cleared the danger.
Saints carried on dominating possession and on 28m Tadić drove into the box. Surrounded by 5 defenders he eventually lost the ball but Saints quickly won it back. Gabbi fed JWP whose firm shot forced a decent save from De Gea. Sadly Saints wasted the resulting corner but again recovered possession allowing Redmond to put in another cross that United struggled to clear.
Saints were looking neat and tidy moving down our left but on the 30m mark it was United who broke down theirs. Rojo was able to deliver a cross but it was too close to Fraser to cause any harm. Down the other end JWP and Gabbi were linking up well and United were obliged to seek Row Z. Then Gabbi beat Rojo and fed Cédric but his cross was overhit.
On 32m De Gea was again called upon to save - this time from Tadić who was set up by Redmond. Saints were bossing the game but I was beginning to worry; if you don’t turn dominance into goals you usually regret it. For the time-being though, Saints continued to probe. On 34m they won another corner off Bailly. JWP’s cross was on the money, the ball reaching Stephens. He tried to set up Maya but a United defender intervened and the danger was averted.
On 36m, Martial drove diagonally across the pitch but was unable to get through the Saints defence. He was steered back away from our goal. Then, on 38m, JWP lost the ball upfield allowing United to counter. Pogba sent a pass down their left where it was worked to Martial. He found Rojo who played a square pass to Lingard. As Mata’s run across our box caused a huge hole in our defence, the Wembley specialist moved to his right before setting a low, curling shot beyond Forster into the far corner. 2-0 United.
On 40m Lingard tripped Stephens who retained his balance but then clattered into Martial. It was shades of the old United when several of their players surrounded the Ref demanding action. This is no longer allowed but Mr Marriner chose not to caution any of them. Instead he booked both Lingard and Stephens. It was the second example of the officials favouring the big club rather than applying the rules. How about some fair play FFS?
Saints still looked the better side without reward. On 44m Tadić again broke into the box but was unable to keep the ball in play. As De Gea prepared to take the goal kick, Sky’s cameras zoomed in on Sir Alex. I knew the old guy liked a drop but was unprepared for just how purple his nose is these days.
The 4th official hoisted his board showing 2 added minutes. Then Redmond carried the ball diagonally across the park before playing in JWP down the right. The youngster drove a peach of a cross down the “corridor of uncertainty” where it was met by Gabbi. He tucked the ball between De Gea’s legs to halve the deficit. By the time the celebrations died down it was halftime: 2-1 United.
The highlight of the halftime punditry was Matt Le Tiss who was absolutely livid about our disallowed goal. If he could have reached Andre Marriner’s throat I swear he’d have throttled the bastard. When he calmed he made the very valid point that, in a one-off final, it is incumbent on the officials to get the big decisions right. This mob had singularly failed to do so.
Saints first half domination of midfield had an immediate effect. Jose sacrificed Mata for the second half, moving Lingard wide right, pushing Pogba up behind Ibra and bringing in Carrick alongside Herrera. Carrick also took over the armband from Smalling.
If they hoped to see more of the ball, United were disappointed. Saints were straight back on the front foot and on 47m JWP won another corner. Tadić’s cross reached Maya who headed for goal but Ibra got in the way and headed it out. Maya kept his eye on the dropping ball and lobbed it back into the box where Redmond executed a perfect volley which De Gea did well to beat away for another corner.
Tadić’s cross was headed behind by Rojo allowing JWP to try his luck from the other side. His cross was headed away by a defender and dropped towards Martial just outside the box. Perhaps he was unaware that Steve Davis was right behind him but he made no attempt to jump, allowing Saints captain to get above him and head the ball back into the box.
What happened next will live long in the memory of all who love the Saints. The ball arced towards the penalty spot where Smalling was marking Gabbi with Bailly in close attendance. (Let us not beat about the bush: Smalling had both arms round Gabbi’s body, a crime which United regularly get away with while lesser clubs see penalties given against them). Anyhow, Gabbi had the strength and awareness to turn away from Smalling, connect perfectly with the dropping ball and steer it into the corner of the net. De Gea, one of the best keepers in the world, never moved: 2-2 and game on!
Whilst I was delighted to see Saints back in the match I felt sorry for Gabbi. Were it not for the ineptitude of the officials, Gabbi would indeed have scored 1 in his first, 2 in his second and 3 in his third games for Saints: and no Wembley match ball either.
Saints continued to look the better side and Redmond was doing very well. If this lad isn’t in the next full England squad there is no justice. On 50m Cédric sent over another great cross which prompted GNev to observe “these crosses are killing United”.
The game was halted on 52m when Steve Davis needed treatment. Saints returned the ball to United as their captain re-joined the game. United then enjoyed a bit of possession without achieving much.
On 56m Redmond was yellow-carded for a foul on Carrick. Saints then got back on top. They played with a bit more restraint than when chasing the game, but still enjoyed good possession. Suddenly, they lost the ball in midfield and were lucky to not be punished. United broke quickly but a Saints foot deflected it back towards Fraser. His hurried clearance went straight back to United but they failed to capitalise. For the first time this afternoon, Saints defending had looked decidedly dodgy.
After the hour mark the game visibly slowed. I guess both sides were aware how the next goal could be decisive and neither looked prepared to take quite so many risks. Saints continued to be the more adventurous and on 63m they opened up United again.
A delightful back-heel by Steve Davis wrong footed the defence, allowing JWP to get in behind. His dangerous low cross was turned away for a corner which he himself took. It was another beautiful cross and Romeu outjumped Pogba, but his header hit the post and was put out for another corner. This one came to nothing but it appeared Saints were close to taking the lead.
Saints kept passing around United until Carrick fouled JWP. The big guys went forward but the free kick was headed away by Ibra. On 70m United attacked through Martial and his neat pass found Lingard. Again, the excellent Yoshida got in the way and put the ball behind for a corner. This was taken short to Lingard whose cross was punched away by Fraser. United then won a free kick on their right but Saints were able to clear. Indeed, they went right down to the other box but their intricate passing move was thwarted when De Gea cleared.
Saints were then guilty of giving away another stupid free kick within shooting distance of their goal. This time it was Tadić’s foul on Pogba that allowed Ibra another pot at goal. This time our wall looked better and blocked the Swede’s shot. United retained possession and worked the ball to Pogba but Cédric was on hand to put the ball out for a corner.
This one was hit long and United retained possession down their right. They worked the ball across the park and the ball eventually came in from the left. Lingard was on the end of it and with Bertie closing him down, he opted for power and fired high over the bar.
That was Lingard’s last contribution as, on 77m, he was replaced by Rashford. Saints countered by bringing on Boufal for Tadić. When play restarted United looked for Ibra but Maya was there first to clear. The game had become rather disjointed and both sides seemed unable to retain the ball.
Boufal saw a lot of the ball, but was holding onto it for too long when better options were available, but on 82m he set up Redmond whose shot deflected for a corner. JWP’s kick was headed away.
On 83m Gabbi was withdrawn and Puel sent on Shane Long. His hard chasing caused immediate problems for United with De Gea happy to hack away the ball he was chasing into the box. United then mounted another attack with Ibra setting up Martial. Forster pushed his shot away for a corner. Ibra got to the cross but put it wide.
Down the other end Bertie looked for JWP or Long but neither reached his pass which was put behind for another Saints corner. It was the 87th minute and Boufal took this one but his cross was headed out allowing United to surge upfield. Saints defenders flooded back but were out of position when the ball was played to Herrera on United’s right. Cédric and Bertie were at the near post and Maya had tracked Pogba to the far stick. But Stephens had lost Ibra and, with the Swede looming right in front of goal, Herrera curled a beautiful cross onto his head and the ball flew past Fraser to put United 3-2 up - with just 3m plus injury time left.
The most rabid of Saints fans realised the game was up, but Jose immediately put on Fellaini for Martial and Claude replaced Davis with Jay Rod. There were 4 added minutes but much of this evaporated as first Pogba and then Ibra were fouled and both took ages rolling around before getting to their feet. The only chance during added time fell to Saints when Bertie ran onto a dropping ball but a phalanx of red shirts got in the way of his shot.
Time was up and United had won despite being distinctly second best on the day. GNev summed it up by saying that although Saints were the better side, United had the match-winners. Whilst that was a fair point, better officials may have allowed Saints #20 to be the match-winner.
Jose showed unusual humility (which, of course, costs nothing when you’ve won): with his team celebrating in the background he told the Sky interviewer that “we should be playing extra time now).
And so we should…
There were big performances all over the park and the striking displays of Messrs Gabbiadini and Ibrahimovic are hard to overlook – but I shall. My Man of the Match was head and shoulders the best defender on the park and Southampton’s most improved player this season.
Take a bow – Maya Yoshida!
1 de Gea
25 A Valencia
21 Herrera - Booked 24'
8 Mata (Carrick 45')
14 Lingard - Booked 41' (Rashford 77')
11 Martial (Fellaini 90')
24 Stephens - Booked 40'
14 Romeu - Booked 18'
8 Davis (Rodriguez 90')
22 Redmond - Booked 56'
11 Tadić (Boufal 77')
20 Gabbiadini (Long 83')
Sun, 26th Feb 2017
Manchester United 3
- Ibrahimovic 19', 87'
- Lingard 38'
- Gabbiadini 45'+1, 48'
Referee : Andre Marriner
Attendance : 85,264
Manchester United 48%
Manchester United 10
Shots on Target
Manchester United 6
Manchester United 3
Manchester United 11