On A day of potential farewells at St Mary’s, Southampton and Manchester United ended their respective Barclays Premier League seasons with a less-than thrilling draw.
Scorers: Southampton - Lambert (28); Manchester United - Mata (54)
With Southampton guaranteeing an eighth-placed finish with a win at Swansea and United heading into the game with only the slightest possibility of qualifying for next season’s Europa League, this game had long lost any meaningful intrigue as the two sides played out a 1-1 draw on the south coast.
The hosts dominated the opening 45 minutes and Rickie Lambert put Southampton into a deserved first-half lead, with a Juan Mata free kick nine minutes after the interval enough to earn Ryan Giggs’ side a share of the spoils. But, if the two clubs meet early next season, the chances are a number of the main protagonists will have moved on to pastures new.
With the managerial futures of both Giggs and Southampton counterpart Mauricio Pochettino unclear, it is likely two new coaches will be brought in over the summer – and for Saints their main challenge will be replacing a seemingly Liverpool-bound Adam Lallana. The 26-year-old is reportedly the target of a big bid from Anfield and Lallana, who picked up both the club’s fans’ and the players’ player of the year awards earlier in the week, once again showed how he can cut it against some of the best players in the league.
Giggs made seven changes from the midweek win over Hull for what will probably be his last match in charge as he recalled Nemanja Vidic for his final game for the Red Devils. But it proved to be a torrid outing for the man who will be lining up for Inter Milan next year as he and his defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, another who could well be departing Old Trafford, struggled to contain Southampton’s rampant frontmen in the opening 45 minutes.
Nathaniel Clyne, a possibility for Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad announcement today, created the game’s first chance as he crossed to Victor Wanyama who diverted the ball through to Lallana, but he could not steer a clever flick past David De Gea.
In front of the watching England manager, Lallana then crossed for World Cup hopeful Luke Shaw but the left-back could only head on to the roof of De Gea’s net. Lallana was proving to be the main catalyst in the hosts’ attack and, after profiting from a mistake by the unsteady Vidic, he bent in an effort that De Gea once again was able to gather, but it was not too long before another England international was celebrating putting Southampton ahead.
Vidic could only head a long ball into the path of Steven Davis under pressure from Lambert, who was then picked out to slot home his 13th league goal of the season. United’s players gathered around Mike Dean after the award of the goal as Vidic had a bloody nose after the clash with Lambert in the build-up to the goal.
Southampton looked to capitalise on their opener and Lambert fired in another shot at the back post, with Chris Smalling diverting the effort behind for a corner. United were able to spring a break from the resulting set-piece, with Jack Cork booked for pulling back the marauding Adnan Januzaj.
Vidic was on the end of Mata’s deep free kick, but could only head wide as he continued to mop blood away from his nose.
Vidic’s final game for United continued to go wrong as the Serbia defender was booked for hauling down Lallana after losing his own footing, with Lambert’s tame free kick held comfortably by Dea Gea. Lallana came close to creating a second for Saints with five minutes of the first half remaining but his flash across goal just eluded the head of the onrushing Davis.
Giggs reacted to a mediocre first half by replacing Shinji Kagawa with Michael Carrick and, after his side had started the second half on top, they soon drew level. Danny Welbeck was bundled to the ground by Wanyama and Mata curled the resulting free kick well out of the reach of Artur Boruc.
The visitors almost took the lead moments later as Janujaz crossed unchallenged, with Welbeck only able to head over and, while Southampton continued to threaten, Vidic and Ferdinand were proving to be a much tougher nut to crack since the interval.
James Ward-Prowse replaced Lallana, with the Saints skipper receiving a standing ovation from the home fans in what could prove to be his swansong for the club.
Welbeck had a late chance for United but they could not muster a winning goal to potentially end the Giggs reign in style.