Southampton 2 -3 Manchester United
I’ve said it very clearly, for the last two weeks, that this is going to be one of those seasons where pretty much every match we play has an absurd score, 6-5, 3-4, 5-4, etc. I am a middle-aged old fart and I’m really staring to question, not my love for my team, but whether my heart, or at least my underwear drawer, can hold out for the season. At any rate, away to Southampton, Manchester United had a historic day as Sir Alex Ferguson managed his 1000th match for the club and striker Robin Van Persie scored his 100th goal in the Premier League.
During this crazy, topsy-turvy mishmash of a match, before Our Robin stood there, with his hat-trick in hand, pointing toward his club badge for the benefit of Our traveling red army packed in the stands at St. Mary’s, there was a moment where Sir Alex Ferguson’s shiny, brilliant new toy must have anticipated the looming sting of the Gaffer’s hairdryer. Did RVP really try a high school boy’s version of a cutesy-poo Andrea Pirloesque chip when we were 2-1 down in the midst of the old tartan warrior’s record-breaking 1,000th game in charge? Did he? Did he really?
Of course, what happened next is just one more story in the catalog of United comebacks. RVP’s equalizer was headed home after 87 minutes and then, with this pulsating thriller entering injury-time, another header, an exquisite bit of art as he rose high to nod home at a diagonal angle far too obtuse for the stranded Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davies to reach for the winner. Rockin’ Robin, the Dutch assassin, with the invaluable service of the Ginger Ninja, Paul Scholes, at his side, somehow managed to turn the match inside out and belly up. Poor Southampton–one minute in it, then done–upside down – stunningly, devastatingly mugged on the very cusp of their first win of the season.
Yes, Southampton were snake-bitten and yes, United are jammy! Did they deserve the three points? Adam Lallana was a buzzing metronome. Jason Puncheon gave United’s once brilliant left back Patrice Evra a spanking. Sliding on the long St. Mary’s turf and absolutely devoid of reflexes, Puncheon passed Evra the kind of Sicilian message so well heeded by a less vanity-befuddled Gary Neville a season ago. Turn him over, Fergie: He’s done! Meanwhile, the Saints’ young Alsacian midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin wreaked havoc on United’s AWOL central midfield. Both Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick underwhelmed again. Consistently terrified of any kind of physical contact, Carrick exuded the body language of a Gulag inhabitant. This aspect of his game did not surprise me, although now that he’s freed from the responsibilities of being a second stopper behind Nemanja Vidic, the excuses are running out. Why, with Shinji Kagawa continually marked by at least two players, Cleverley and Carrick repeatedly still kept trying to find him with timid passes beggars belief. And with Vidic and Ferdinand looking sort of rusty and arthritic, screaming at each other a lot and reminding those of us of a certain age of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton getting wed for a third time, United’s defense was terrible.
Luckily, Southampton were incapable of playing anything one might call defense, beyond packing their final third of the pitch with players. Indeed, once Paul Scholes arrived, the two late goals he set up were the difference. Like an adult child forced by circumstance to move back in with its parents, United steadily grow more, not less dependent on the 37-year-old Scholes. And with both Schneiderlin and Puncheon exhausted, the extra energy Ferguson pumped into his side with the introduction of Scholes and striker Javíer Hernandez made a huge difference.
Above all, there’s hyperbole for Robin Van Persie. The first goal he scored, like the one last week, was an exquisite left-footed angled strike. After giving the slip to Nathaniel Clyne, the elegant Nederlander controlled an Antonio Valencia cross on his chest, he blasted a volley past Davis after. And then third, a gorgeous header, his 100th in Premier League competition, at an awkward angle after a superbly accurate corner from Nani.
Nigel Adkins’ side deserve credit. The tough-as-teak, Rickie Lambert had headed the home side into a seventeenth minute lead after Jason Puncheon delivered an inch-perfect cross, exposing the Rafael da Silva’s lack of height with a perfectly placed header. And, later, 58 minutes in, Patrice Evra, supposedly marking Schneiderlin, did a kind of Harpo Marx-meets Mr. Pastry pratfall, allowing the Frenchman all the time in the world to steal the ball away from Cleverley as he passed recklessly to Kagawa, stormed in and then headed home.
Finally, last but not least, there’s the crazy penalty that anyone who witnessed this match will never forget. After a bad Kelvin Davis clearance fell to Nani . The Portuguese winger went into one of his delicious. tricky, mazy runs and clumsy Jos Hooiveld, althoughh e was clearly going for the ball, scythed through the back of his fellow Dutchman Thus there was the penalty no one will ever forget.
It was a grand entertainment indeed. 35 thrillers to go! Not to mention the extra hijinx thrills and spills of the European Champions League, F.A. Cup and the League Cup.