United pair cancel out early stunner from Saints
Manchester United progressed through to the fifth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Southampton, with Michael Owen and Chicharito the goal scoring saviours as United were forced to overturn a deficit for the second time this week.
United went behind in the first half to a stunning Richard Chaplow strike that left the United keeper with no chance, and the Southampton fans in dreamland as the Saints dominated the opening 45 minutes.
But United changed their formation in the second half and became the dominant force, with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes taking over in the centre of midfield.
For a moment it seemed that a major upset was on the cards when Southampton had the ball in the net in the 7th minute through Lee Barnard, but the flag had been raised for offside before the ball bounced to the centre-forward.
Owen, occupying a deep-lying central position, almost found the bottom corner in the 10th minute, his shot just brushing past the post after good work to find him from Fabio da Silva.
Owen again almost found the net, beating the offside trap before putting in a cross from the edge of the area that looped over Bartosz Bialkowski in the Southampton goal, only to crash off the inside of the post as the Saints defence cleared.
United were looking decidedly unsure at the back, as can be expected when none of the first-team regulars are present in defence.
The midfield seemed a little disjointed as well, with Darron Gibson deployed on the right wing. This formation saw Southampton dominate the play in the opening half-hour, finding plenty of space down the left through the influential Dan Harding and Premiership-bound Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Southampton missed easily the best chance of the half two minutes before the interval when Guly do Prado missed an unmarked header from the edge of the six-yard-box, but they didn’t have too long to wait for another one.
After a rogue touch from Jonny Evans, Chaplow picked up the ball before surging past his defender and into the area before unleashing a thunderous half-volley past the debutant United keeper Anders Lindegaard and into the top-corner.
The strike would have beaten just about any keeper in the world, but it crucially gave Southampton the lead at half-time. Manager Nigel Adkins will have warned his team at half-time about the dangers of United, which Blackpool found out the hard way in mid-week, giving away a two-goal lead in the second half.
United came out looking revitalised, no doubt on the receiving end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s infamous ‘hairdryer’ treatment for the second time in a week. But Southampton weren’t giving up, pressing United well when the Premier League side were on the ball.
Harding again caused trouble for United 10 minutes into the second half, making his way through the defence with a weaving run, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on his shot to trouble Lindegaard.
Ferguson rang the changes in the 58th minute, with Ryan Giggs and Nani coming on for Gibson and Anderson, after the manager was forced into a half-time swap with Fabio being replaced by Wes Brown.
It was a bad moment for Ferguson, having to admit defeat in his tactics for the second match in a row, but his formation simply wasn’t working, with United showing little width or invention, and having to call for the big guns in an attempt to rescue the match.
It almost paid off within 10 minutes, Michael Owen getting across the front of his marker to prod Nani’s low cross just over the bar.
And in the 65th minute, Owen snatched a typical poacher’s goal, one that benefitted from United’s new found width.
Gabriel Obertan had been a spectator for most of the game, in an unfamiliar position and feeding on scraps, but back on the right wing he tormented Harding, twisting right and left before finally driving over a cross that took a deflection , leaving Owen to head into the bottom corner and wheel away towards the United support.
Southampton almost regained the lead minutes later, as first Chaplow’s ball across the face of goal evaded every player in a Southampton shirt, and then from a well-worked corner between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harding, the latter’s driven cross flashed just past the far post.
United almost inevitably took the lead in the 76th minute, and it was the combination of Giggs and Chicharito that took the wind out of the Saints’ sails.
United profited on some sloppy play by Ryan Dickson, and as Giggs was found on the edge of the area, his precise ball unlocked the defence to find Chicharito to slot home, despite losing his balance somewhat.
United closed out the remaining 15 minutes with relative ease, playing keep-ball and pressing well when Southampton were in possession, to make it 35 games gone this season with only one defeat to progress through to the fifth round.