Woodwork denies Saints against ten-man United

Matchdays/2022-23/Man United vs Saints/MW_ManchesterUnited_Southampton_106_dqqamu

Southampton had to settle for a point against ten-man Manchester United after a breathless encounter finished goalless at Old Trafford.

Saints were giving as good as they got even before Casemiro’s 34th-minute red card rocked the home team.

That led to the visitors having the better of the second period. James Ward-Prowse struck the crossbar from a free-kick and Kyle Walker-Peters rattled the post either side of a brilliant Gavin Bazunu save to tip Bruno Fernandes’s 20-yard shot against the inside of the upright.

Theo Walcott also had a big chance in each half but was twice denied by David De Gea, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s goal-line clearance spared Scott McTominay’s blushes when the substitute inadvertently beat his own goalkeeper from a Walker-Peters cutback.

Rubén Sellés was forced into one change to the side that defeated Leicester at St Mary’s last time out, replacing Ainsley Maitland-Niles with Romain Perraud, as Walker-Peters switched to right-back.

That meant Carlos Alcaraz, last weekend’s match-winner, was fit to start in the No 10 role behind Ché Adams after the pair combined so fruitfully against the Foxes.

There were no signs of the knee problem that forced him off early in the second half of that game, as Alcaraz skipped past Lisandro Martinez, whose bodycheck was blatant, and the defender became the first man to go into the book inside ten minutes.

Saints could be encouraged by their start, as Walker-Peters registered the first shot on target with a low drive from the right corner of the penalty area dealt with comfortably by De Gea.

But in Marcus Rashford, United possess one of Europe’s most in-form players. The explosive forward exchanged passes with Fernandes and raced away from Ward-Prowse, but Bazunu saved well, low to his left as Rashford looked to place one inside the far post.

Then Saints had a lucky escape when Rashford beat the offside trap, but for once his touch let him down, allowing Bazunu to gather at his feet.

Having survived a couple of scares, Saints should have broken the deadlock themselves with the best chance of the first half on 24 minutes.

Perraud’s chipped cross from the left was begging to be finished by Walcott, who got across Luke Shaw and had a free header from the middle of the six-yard line, but he powered the ball too close to De Gea, who still saved miraculously but should not have been given a chance keep it out.

Fernandes then sent a curling shot a couple of yards over Bazunu’s crossbar as United threatened once more, before Saints used the electric pace of Kamaldeen Sulemana to spring forward on the counter, as the winger’s speed took him beyond Wan-Bissaka, but he appeared to be caught in two minds when he reached the penalty area, allowing Raphael Varane to intervene.

Chances kept coming at both ends. Wout Weghorst headed straight at Bazunu when he might have done better, though Armel Bella-Kotchap may have done just enough to put him off, having jumped just in front of him.

Next came the big talking point. Casemiro lunged in on Alcaraz and did touch the ball first, but his studs went into Alcaraz’s shin as he followed through.

Referee Anthony Taylor initially booked the Brazilian, before he was advised to take another look on the pitchside monitor, convincing Taylor to upgrade Casemiro’s punishment to red.

From the resulting free-kick, 30 yards out, Ward-Prowse’s strike took a wicked deflection off the top of the wall, leaving a nervous De Gea watching on, relieved to see the ball sail inches wide of his right-hand post with the keeper rooted to the spot.

Suddenly Old Trafford felt plagued by injustice, and a previously subdued home crowd became increasingly influential.

Fernandes delivered a teasing free-kick that Varane should have converted at the far post, but again Bazunu kept United at bay, before the natives appealed loudly for two penalties in quick succession.

Walker-Peters clearly played the ball as he slid in to dispossess Fernandes, but the Portuguese never needs a second invitation to vent his frustrations, which were ramped up further Rashford’s cross struck the arm of Bella-Kotchap, who had lost his balance and could not prevent the contact.

When Walcott had the freedom of the United half from another counter-attack, Erik ten Hag was forced to sacrifice one of his attackers and introduce McTominay to plug the void vacated by Casemiro, as Weghorst reluctantly made way before the break.

Saints could smell an opportunity against ten men, and came out with a purpose in the second half.

Walker-Peters gave Rashford a taste of his own medicine, beating him one against one down the wing, before his cutback from the byline struck McTominay and was destined for the bottom corner only for Wan-Bissaka to make a goal-line clearance that might even have rebounded back into the goal off De Gea on another day.

Meanwhile, having already had a sighter, Ward-Prowse was given another chance to tie David Beckham’s Premier League free-kick record at the United legend’s former home.

Again it was just right of centre, not his favourite side, but this one was slightly closer than the one in the first half, and again De Gea was a mere spectator – watching on his haunches as Ward-Prowse this time glanced the top of the crossbar and could hardly have come closer.

Saints were gathering momentum, and Walcott had another golden opportunity from another breakaway, but Martinez was able to get back and force him on to his left foot, before De Gea bailed out United once more with another save high to his left.

United had been pinned back, but Bazunu was still called upon to make a critical stop midway through the second period, tipping Fernandes’s skidding shot against the post, as time stood still when the ball bounced across goal and out for a corner on the other side.

Within a minute, Saints responded by striking the upright themselves. This was breathless stuff despite the lack of goals, as Walker-Peters stepped inside and cannoned a left-footed strike against De Gea’s far post with the keeper beaten.

United wanted a penalty again, this time on the byline when Rashford went to ground as Bazunu rushed out, but there seemed to be no contact from the goalkeeper.

As far as 0-0s go, you won’t see many better, but Saints will be left wondering how they didn’t score.