Southampton saw a memorable cup run come to a disappointing end as they were defeated 3-2 by Manchester United at Wembley. Having overcome a two goal deficit, the Saints were victims to a cruel late winner despite out-playing an out-of-sorts United team for large swathes of the match.
In a cup run that has seen Southampton claim both an immaculate defensive record and the scalps of giants such as Arsenal and Liverpool, the final hurdle in their road to glory was always going to be the toughest. However, both the watertight defence and the excellent start made by new signing Manolo Gabbiadini had many in red and white hoping that the club could overcome their largest foe and claim a first major honour since 1976.
It was indeed Gabbiadini who struck up the first major talking point of the game, as his goal after 10 minutes was incorrectly chalked off for offside. As Southampton continued to boss much of the early play it was instead Manchester United who struck first 19 minutes in, with main man Zlatan Ibrahimovic firing a free kick into the bottom corner. Fraser Forster will feel a bit disappointed to have conceded the strike, having nearly gotten a hand to the ball.
The Saints immediately got back onto the front foot with both Ward-Prowse and Tadic seeing efforts well saved, but a brief lapse in concentration at the back allowed a snippet of space for Jesse Lingard. The Manchester United man made no mistake as he rolled an effort into the bottom corner, and Southampton undeservedly found themselves two down to a team who at that point had barely managed two attacks.
It looked as if Southampton would go into the break two goals behind, but a cross from Ward-Prowse in stoppage time found Gabbiadini, and this time the Italian would not be denied by the linesman’s flag as he duly halved the deficit. The second half picked up where the first left off, and after Redmond’s excellent volley was well saved by De Gea, Gabbiadini reacted quickest to a loose ball in the box to fire into the bottom corner. The Italian was signed just a month ago from Napoli but already has five goals in just three games in England, and is quickly becoming a cult hero on the south coast.
Aside from a Romeu header that hit the post and a high effort from Lingard, chances in the second half were few and far between. As both sides were throwing on fresh legs with less than five minutes to go, Herrera’s cross from the right hand side was met with a bullet header by Ibrahimovic to break Southampton hearts. It was to be the last major action of the game as United went on to lift the EFL cup just minutes later.
Despite the obvious disappointment and bitterness at such a late and dramatic loss, it had been an excellent performance from the Saints. Gabbiadini, Yoshida, and both fullbacks Bertrand and Cedric were all outstanding on the day and should be singled out for particular praise. Ultimately, Southampton were the victims of a big performance from a fantastic footballer in the shape of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as some questionable officiating. Nevertheless, a fantastic cup run and a first major final since 2003 are certainly reason to smile from the St. Mary’s faithful, in what has otherwise been a fairly ordinary season.
Photo credit – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/02/26/manchester-united-vs-southampton-efl-cup-final-live-score-updates/