Manchester // The 3,000 Southampton fans were singing about saints marching in when their players responded.
Two minutes of regulation time remained at Manchester United when seven Southampton players marched forward to attack a corner ball.
Defeated in their eight previous visits to Old Trafford, they were again losing, but an overly cautious home side had failed to kill them off. United’s one-goal lead seemed precarious.
Southampton’s players sensed a chance from the corner. One, Adam Lallana, shot into a crowd of players and the ball found a way past goalkeeper David de Gea.
The surprise team of the Premier League, Southampton sat fourth before the game with two goals allowed in seven games, the best defence in Europe’s major leagues after Roma.
They started brightly, their play as neat as their manager’s suit as they pressed high, closing United down and passing neatly in the style which had won praise from Sir Alex Ferguson last season.
Despite United’s indifferent start, the mood was as bright among their fans.
They had received news that Adnan Januzaj, their creative Belgium-born winger, 18, had signed a five-year contract.
Southampton created chances, one in the 23rd minute when Wayne Rooney lost possession as he carried the ball back toward his goal. Dani Osvaldo, chosen ahead of Rickie Lambert as the Saints’ striker, hit a limp shot.
Rooney was involved in the opening goal a minute later when he ran onto a wondrous pass from Januzaj. Rooney’s shot was saved by Artur Boruc, who has the best saves-to-shots percentage in the league. The ball landed in the path of Robin van Persie, who went round the keeper and scored.
Old Trafford’s capacity crowd of 75,220 was subdued. When they weren’t singing about rivals Portsmouth, who sit 79 league positions below them, Southampton fans compared it to a library. United will trial a vocal section of like-minded supporters who want to help boost the atmosphere in Wednesday’s game against Real Sociedad.
Thanks to the introduction of Lambert, the game opened up, with Boruc saving shots from Nani and, magnificently, from the busy Januzaj.
The vibrancy remained, with Nathaniel Clyne hitting the target in the 85th minute, before Chris Smalling replaced Rooney as David Moyes sought to close the game out with four minutes remaining.
The plan failed, and the draw felt like a defeat for United and a victory for Southampton. “We were brave and put a great effort in,” Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino said. “I’d like to congratulate my players.”
Asked if he was fearful of coming to Old Trafford, Pochettino replied: “I never start a game in a fearful way.”
United need to get their fear back, though the Argentine added: “It’s not easy for David Moyes in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson.”
Moyes admitted that he was “disappointed to lose a goal so late on”.
“We had good opportunities to finish the game off,” he said. “At 1-0, Southampton always had chance to get one and we should have put the game beyond them.
“We had pockets of play where we were good, others where we weren’t. We wanted to be able to get a bit of momentum going today. That didn’t happen.”
United stumble on, the Saints keep marching on.
Published: October 19, 2013 04:00 AM