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Saints make life a hell for United

manchester-united-v-southampton-premier-20131019-160050-717There were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about today. United, for a start, were back after a two-week absence forced upon us by the international break and they were back having just renewed Adnan Januzaj’s contract, as the talented teenager put pen to paper on a five-year deal just when most Reds had begun to expect a repeat of the fiasco that surrounded Paul Pogba’s departure.

If those weren’t enough reasons to be cheerful, David Moyes opted for an attacking-minded starting XI, with Ashley Young and Anderson nowhere near the first team squad, as Nani and Januzaj occupied the two flanks, with Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini deployed in the middle of the park.

It was, in other words, the sort of perfect day United love to ruin. And ruin they did, as they conceded an 89th minute equaliser against a very solid Southampton side, which leaves them with a grand total of five points after four Premier League games at Old Trafford, hardly title-winning form by any stretch of imagination.

Drawing against a side who had conceded only two goals up until today, thus boasting the league’s best defensive record, is hardly a crime, but United, regardless of their own shortcomings, should dispose of teams of Southampton’s pedigree a lot more easily. Alas, they did not and the Saints deserved the point they secured thanks to a late Dejan Lovren goal, for they never let their heads drop and kept their composure admirably.

United, on the other hand, did not. David Moyes’ decision to replace Wayne Rooney with Chris Smalling with four minutes to go backfired catastrophically as United dropped too deep conceding a corner through which Southampton equalised. Blaming the United manager for the visitor’s goal would be cynical and rather stupid, for on the crucial corner his players looked as alert as a bus driver whose coffee has been spiked with sleeping pills.

Having started the game reasonably well, United were in front with 26 minutes gone, as Robin Van Persie rounded Artur Boruc before slotting the ball in the far corner after the Polish keeper had denied Wayne Rooney one-on-one. Van Persie’s goal was his first in five Premier League games and his first in open play in the league since he netted two at Swansea on the opening day of the campaign but, rather more worryingly, was also United’s first from open play at Old Trafford in the Premier League.

As good as the Dutchman’s finish was, Adnan Januzaj’s pass to present Wayne Rooney with a golden chance was simply sublime, the kind of defence-splitting, inventive touch United have been crying out for a long time.

The goal seemed to galvanise United and for five,ten, wonderful minutes the shackles were off and the Reds could have doubled their advantage, as Wayne Rooney unleashed a ferocious thunderbolt which crashed against the bar.

Southampton, in truth, had had a couple of good openings of their own, with Daniel Osvaldo’s tame shot ending into David De Gea’s arms after Adam Lallana had won the ball off Rooney just after United’s opener.

The Saints kept working hard in the second half, while United were denied in quick the succession halfway through the second period. With 63 minutes gone Van Persie saw his header crash against the bar, before Boruc was quick to deny Nani’s header and Januzaj’s long range effort.

Giggs, Danny Welbeck and Smalling replaced Nani, Welbeck and Rooney but as the game went on, Southampton’s goal became increasingly inevitable. Utterly and tragically inevitable.

And it arrived right on cue, to set United’s season back yet again.