Football

Magical Mata on target

Spanish star denies Saints with stunning free-kick

SOUTHAMPTON 1

(Lambert 28,)

MANCHESTER UNITED 1

(Mata 54)

On a day of potential farewells at St Mary’s, Southampton and Manchester United ended their respective English Premier League seasons with a less-thanthrilling draw.

With Southampton guaranteed an eighth-placed finish with a win at Swansea and United heading into the game with only the slightest possibility of qualifying for next season’s Europa League, this game had long lost any meaningful intrigue.

The hosts dominated the opening 45 minutes and Rickie Lambert put Southampton into a deserved first-half lead, with a Juan Mata free-kick nine minutes after the interval enough to earn Ryan Giggs’ side a share of the spoils.

But, if the two clubs meet early next season, the chances are a number of the main protagonists of today will have moved on to pastures new.

With the managerial futures of both Giggs and Southampton counterpart Mauricio Pochettino unclear, it is likely two new coaches will be brought in over the summer — and for Saints their main challenge will be replacing a seemingly Liverpool-bound Adam Lallana.

The 26-year-old is reportedly the target of a big bid from Anfield and Lallana, who picked up both the club’s fans’ and the players’ player of the year awards earlier in the week, once again showed how he can cut it against some of the best players in the league.

Giggs made seven changes from the midweek win over Hull for what will probably be his last match in charge during his interim spell as he recalled Nemanja Vidic for his final game.

But it proved to be a torrid outing for the man who will be lining up for Inter Milan next year as he and his defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, another who could well be departing Old Trafford, struggled to contain Southampton’s rampant frontmen in the first half.

CATALYST

Nathaniel Clyne created the game’s first chance as he crossed to Victor Wanyama who diverted the ball through to Lallana, but the Southampton captain could not steer a clever flick past David De Gea.

Lallana then crossed for Luke Shaw but the left-back could only head onto the roof of De Gea’s net.

Lallana was proving to be the main catalyst in the hosts’ attack and, after profiting from a mistake from the unsteady Vidic, he bent in an effort that De Gea once again was able to gather, but it was not too long before another Eng-land international was celebrating putting Southampton ahead.

Vidic could only head a long ball into the path of Steven Davis under pressure from Lambert, who was then picked out to slot home his 13th league goal of the season.

United’s players gathered around Mike Dean after the award of the goal as Vidic had a bloody nose after the clash with Lambert in the build-up.

Southampton looked to capitalise on their opening goal and Lambert fired in another shot at the back post, with Chris Smalling diverting the effort behind.

United were able to spring a break from the resulting set-piece, with Jack Cork booked for pulling back the mauruading Adnan Januzaj. The ever-busy Lallana came close to creating a second for Southampton with five minutes of the first half remaining but his flash across goal just eluded the head of the onrushing Davis.

Giggs reacted to a mediocre first half by replacing Shinji Kagawa with Michael Carrick and they soon drew level.

Danny Welbeck was bundled to the ground by Wanyama and Mata curled the resulting free-kick well out of the reach of Boruc.

James Ward-Prowse replaced Lallana, with the Saints skipper receiving a standing ovation from the home fans in what could prove to be his swansong for the club.