The curtain came down on a bitterly disappointing Manchester United Premier League campaign with a 1-1 draw with Southampton at St.Mary’s. The result confirmed 7th place in the league for United, their worst in Premier League history and consigns them to no European football next season. Rickie Lambert gave the Saints a controversial but deserved lead in the first half, Juan Mata cancelling that out after the interval with a superb free kick. It was a muted end to the season for the Red Devils on a day where the blue half of Manchester celebrated their 2nd title in 3 years.
Interim boss Ryan Giggs left himself out of the match day squad with Robin Van Persie returned to lead the line in place of James Wilson. Nemanja Vidic captained the side on his last ever appearance for the club. Southampton, who have enjoyed a terrific season under Mauriccio Pochettino, were much the better side in the opening period. Luke Shaw perhaps showed United fans what they can look forward to next season with an excellent display. The 18 year old was resolute in his defensive duties and looked a real threat going forward. It was the left back who the first real chance of the game fell to, after a surging run he fed the equally coveted Adam Lallana, his cross headed over by the unmarked Shaw. Just before the half hour mark, Southampton took the lead in contentious circumstances. Rickie Lambert caught Vidic in the face with an elbow in the build up and with the United skipper on the floor, Steve Davis played Lambert through on goal who finished clinically. The United players and a clearly bloodied Vidic surrounded referee Mike Dean but their protests were waved away. The south coast side continued to press and United player of the year David De Gea denied both Lambert and Lallana before the interval.
Ryan Giggs made one change at half time with Michael Carrick replacing Shinji Kagawa. The swap seemed to have the desired effect as United gained more control in midfield and looked a more balanced side. When Victor Wanayama fouled Danny Welbeck on the edge of the penalty area, Juan Mata and Robin Van Persie stood over the dead ball. It was the Spaniard who took the free kick and curled an exquisite effort into the top corner for his sixth goal in six games. Although United continued to have the better of the play they looked a team who couldn’t wait to finish a forgettable season. Chris Smalling picked out an unmarked Darren Fletcher who headed wide. Carrick found Welbeck with a great ball over the top but the forward blazed his shot over the bar. Welbeck then saw another chance go begging, shooting straight at Arthur Boruc in the dying seconds as the game petered out to a 1-1 draw.
The appointment of Louis Van Gaal is expected to be confirmed in the coming days, the Dutchman set to be tasked with returning United to the race for the title and a ticket to European football’s top prize. With 97 days until the start of the new season the rebuilding starts now.