MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Owen 65, Hernandez 75
Manchester United had to come from behind to beat League One Southampton at St. Mary’s, but their resilience told in the end as second half goals from Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez sent the Red Devils through to the FA Cup fifth round.
Despite the defeat Southampton impressed throughout the game, dominating periods of the first half with slick passing play that caused a weakened United side problems long before Richard Chaplow had put Saints in the lead moments before the break. But United’s never say die attitude, which has seen them rescue a number of points in the Premier League this season, was the catalyst for their second half revival.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to leave both Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov on the bench looked like backfiring as the trio of Hernandez, Owen and Gabriel Obertan were kept largely quiet by the home side’s backline, itself without regulars Rahdi Jaidi and goalkeeper Kelvin Davis. Southampton were confident on the ball, with Chaplow and young Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin able to dictate play in a United midfield that was spearheaded by veteran Paul Scholes. Scholes often looked lost in the first half, attempting to play Darron Gibson and Anderson out of trouble on a couple of occasions, but playing into their opponent’s hands.
Teenage winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, rumoured to be wanted by United, was a constant menace on the left side, ably assisted by Brazilian Guly Do Prado on the opposite flank. Strikers Lee Barnard and Rickie Lambert, however, were unusually off colour. Chaplow’s goal was no less than the home side deserved. Ferguson, looking to avoid being knocked out of the FA Cup by a League One side for the second successive year, made a half time change, with Wes Brown replacing Fabio in defence, and the switch flicked for United.
As against Blackpool in the league in midweek, the Red Devils appeared a different side in the second half, with Scholes in particular allowed more space to create attacking moves from midfield. Hernandez’s movement caused the Saints backline numerous problems, and although Owen was quiet, it was his striker’s instinct that led him to find the equaliser.
The clear momentum shift was exacerbated with the introduction of Ryan Giggs and Nani, the Portuguese winger, like Scholes, finding more space as the game went on, tormenting Danny Butterfield and providing United with an attacking threat out wide. The away side’s added width stretched Southampton and eventually led to Hernandez’s goal, after substitute Ryan Dickson had given the ball away needlessly.
It was United’s extra touch of quality in the second half, both in midfield and up front, that eventually made the difference, and their refusal to admit defeat by both their opponents and the vocal home support was key. The re-introduction of Rooney to an established line up at the expense of a goal-scoring Hernandez may be something Ferguson has to consider going forward – for now, however, he will simply be thankful to progress to the next round.