Boos ring out the old year as draw sees United drop to third
Manchester United 0 Southampton 0
Manchester United again managed only a point when three is the requirement. This latest draw followed those with Leicester City and Burnley and means José Mourinho's side slips to third in the table behind a resurgent Chelsea.
United are becalmed and the downbeat mood is furthered by concern over Romelu Lukaku, their top scorer, who was taken off early due to a clash of heads.
Towards the end a Nemanja Matic shot was helped home by Paul Pogba but the latter was ruled offside. It left Mourinho frustrated and while he may argue - again - United deserved victory, after dropping six points from the last nine the slide should worry him.
The quest to break the sequence of draws began with Mourinho making three changes. In came Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Victor Lindelof and Jesse Lingard, for Marcus Rashford, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede was not in the 18, while Mkhitaryan made a first start since Bonfire Night.
Mauricio Pellegrino chose four different players. Notable here was Fraser Forster's demotion to the bench to allow Alex McCarthy a Premier League debut in goal for Southampton. The manager's also removed Mario Lemina, Nathan Redmond and Matt Targett for James Ward-Prowse, Dusan Tadic and Sam McQueen.
After a slick start from the visitors that featured some one-touch moves, United should have breached them. Juan Mata flitted down the right, turned the ball onto Lukaku's head and he could only direct the ball over as McCarthy's goal gaped.
Mourinho insisted in the build-up that Lukaku cannot be dropped. So the manager will have been alarmed to see his star striker felled on nine minutes. The No 9 went for the ball but was clattered by a clash of heads with Wesley Hoedt.
This caused concern and a lengthy delay for Lukaku to receive treatment. After five minutes the unfortunate Belgian, who required an oxygen mask, was carried off as Rashford replaced him. Mata took the resulting free-kick and hit this straight out, which could not have lightened Mourinho's mood.
Lukaku's injury came just after Saints spurned a golden chance. Sofiane Boufal made the right-hand bye-line and pulled the ball back. Luke Shaw's mistake teed it up for Ward-Prowse and after David De Gea made a fine stop the lingering Boufal was adjudged offside.
Pellegrino's tactic was to hit United on the counter-attack via Shane Long's pace. One move drew Lindelof into fouling the centre-forward. Oriol Romeu smacked the dead ball to De Gea's right and the United keeper conceded a corner. A second followed moments later and from here the home side turned defence into danger. Mata slotted a pass to Rashford and the forward raced towards the centre circle. He made the correct pass - to Mkhitaryan along the left - then ran with Lingard into the area. But when the Armenian tried to find them the cross proved dismally over-hit.
The contest was proving riveting entertainment. Next up, Ward-Prowse's corner from the right should have led to an opener from Hoedt but the unmarked defender headed wide.
Rashford's searing pace and directness are attributes that offer United something different so it was surprise to hear Mourinho say Lukaku could not be rested even with the 20-year-old in his ranks. An illustration of his threat came when a high ball dropped in the area to Rashford. The Saints rearguard panicked and after possession went to Mata he should have beaten McCarthy.
United thought referee Craig Pawson should have awarded a penalty for a Maya Yoshida handball but the referee was unmoved. More material to upset Mourinho was provided by the familiar issue of failing to convert chances. Just before half-time, Lingard put a close-range header wide.
The opening signs as the second half started did little to encourage United. Lingard swept in an inviting cross from the right but there was no Rashford, Mata or Mkhitaryan lurking in the right area to finish.
Alarm bells rang at the other end, too, when a dawdling Matic allowed Long to step in front of him and fire at De Gea from near the penalty spot. The Spaniard saved but United had to liven up.
Shaw tried to lift the home side by forcing a corner down the left. This was a short affair between Mata and Mkhitaryan and when the latter aimed the ball at the far post a second corner was won. But, again, United could not capitalise.
Mourinho brought on Anthony Martial for Mkhitaryan and the Frenchman won a free-kick. A Young curler hit Jack Stephens for the latest United corner that yielded nothing.
Lingard darted through, combined with Rashford, and Shaw claimed yet another fruitless dead-ball from the left. Rashford might have scored from close in but the angle was too acute and a late flurry from the home side failed to break the deadlock.
It is what is happening to United's season: hope is being suffocated and there was no surprise to hear boos at final whistle.
Sunday Indo Sport