Robin Van Persie was the hero for Manchester United as his hattrick sealed a last gasp 3-2 win over newly promoted Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium.
It was another day in which in United failed to convince, needing two late goals to take maximum points from a game they seemed destined to lose, especially after the Dutch striker had an awful penalty kick saved. But this is Manchester United, and even when they are playing that badly, they proved once more that they can never be completely written off. It was a somewhat fitting end to Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,000th league game in charge of Manchester United, but that would be a hard sell to any Southampton fans or neutrals.
United opened the game relatively well, controlling the tempo of the game for the first ten minutes and pinning Southampton deep into their own half. With almost 65% of possession in those opening exchanges, the game looked to be completely in United’s hands, with the Red Devils poking the ball around the Southampton penalty area, looking for the right opportunity. Van Persie was in for a busy afternoon, and he almost opened the scoring in the 5th minute, when he took down a lovely lobbed pass from Michael Carrick, but failed to find the right finish under a lot of pressure from a tight angle.
Much like last week though, United’s early dominance counted for very little, and by the 15th minute they found themselves 1-0 down. Southampton were eased into the game as a sense of complacency and sloppiness creeped into United’s game, and when the opportunity came the Saints certainly didn’t let themselves down. Lallana went close from a corner in the 13th minute, but only two minutes later, Rickie Lambert had the home side 1-0 up, easily rising above Rafael to head home beyond the helpless Anders Lindegaard to send the home fans into delirium.
United’s response was swift however, and after Kagawa had a low drive wel saved from a central position, Robin Van Persie had levelled the scores by the 24th minute. Danny Welbeck did well to work the ball out of a congested area, getting it to the right flank from where Antonio Valencia chipped a lovely cross to the far post. Van Persie shrugged off the challenge of Nathaniel Clyne, who then slipped, to bring the ball down on his chest, and strike a sumptuous half volley across the face of the Southampton goal and into the back of the net.
There were few other chances of note for the remainder of the half. Lambert went close again with a fine strike barely a minute after Van Persie’s goal, whilst the Dutchman went close from a free kick just outside the area, before Patrice Evra crept forward to get on the end of a Valencia cross, which he could only direct into the ground and straight at Kelvin Davis in the Southampton goal.
It was an average first half in which United never looked very threatening. They kept the ball well despite Southampton’s industry, but their movement forward was ultimately hampered by some poor passing which resulted in a number of cheap turnovers.
The second half would not get much better, although Shinji Kagawa went very close in the opening minutes with a fine strike at goal that looked to have beat the keeper. Unfortunately for United, it crept just wide of the post as well. Van Persie fluffed his lines minutes later when he failed to convert a rather decent chance from a low, driven cross from Valencia, who was at his productive best down the right hand side.
It all started to go terribly wrong from there however, and United were down 2-1 minutes later. Morgan Schneiderlin was allowed to score a free header after an unfortunate slip from Patrice Evra to once more give the home fans something to cheer about. It was another poor goal to concede from a United perspective, and the result of another cheap turn over, a facet of United’s game that was becoming all too frequent. Southampton certainly weren’t complaining and for the remainder of the half it seemed as though they were genuinely going to get the three points.
Sir Alex responded to the goal by bringing on Nani and Paul Scholes to revert to a more familiar 4-4-2 shape, with Danny Welbeck partnering Robin Van Persie up front. Scholes’s first touch of the ball saw him play in Van Persie, but he could not find the back of the net from a tough angle, though he did get his shot on target.
Nani’s first contribution was to latch onto a terrible pass out of the box from Davies in goal, laying the ball square to Van Persie who was awarded a penalty when Jose Fonte came crashing through the back of the Dutch striker. Van Persie summed up United’s performance with a casual penalty kick, which was all too easily saved by the Southampton goalkeeper. It was a golden opportunity to level the scores with plenty of time to search for a winner, but after such a despondent attempt, the wind seemed to have been taken from United’s sails.
That changed in the 87th minute though. Nani’s corner was hit well beyond anyone in the penalty area, but Valencia was able to recover the ball and feed the supporting Rafael. The Brazilian full back floated in a lovely cross, which found Rio Ferdinand’s late run into the box. The former England international got onto the end of the cross, directing the ball goalwards but was denied by the post, leaving Van Persie to notch his second of the game with the easiest of tap ins.
It was incredibly cruel on Southampton who deserved all three points as much as United deserved none, but it would get even worse in stoppage time when United’s new Dutch striker further ammended his terrible penalty kick to head home Nani’s superb corner. The goal was Van Persie’s 100th Premier League effort, and his fourth in two games, and would prove the difference, on the score-sheet at least, between the two sides on the day.
A win they probably didn’t deserve, but one that they will take with both hands, United ran out the game 3-2 winners. It was a harsh result on the Saints, who have now been cruelly denied by two different Mancunian opponents in the opening weeks, but they will no doubt take plenty of confidence from the way they played against last season’s runners up.
United: Lindegaard 7, Rafael 6, Vidic 6.5, Ferdinand 6.5, Evra 6.5, Cleverley 5, Carrick 5, Welbeck 5, Kagawa 5, Valencia 7, Robin Van Persie 8*
Man of the Match:
Robin Van Persie:
Manchester United have well and truly got a bargain in snatching last season’s Premier League top scorer from rivals Arsenal. The striker will be dissapointed with his poor spot kick that looked to have sealed United’s face, but it is the mark of a champion when a player can recover from such a critical error and still prove the difference. His first United hattrick and what a massive one it could prove to be.
Not a bad way to rack up a century of goals in the Barclays Premier League.