On the south coast of England, the Premiership’s greatest over-achievers of 2013-14 took on the league’s most significant under-achievers, while further north a club whose fans used to claim United’s successes didn’t count because they were founded on money secured the league title with a squad assembled on so many oil dollars they incurred the first financial fair play penalty in English football history. But as their achievement was at the expense of another team who used to tell United fans that solitary trophies didn’t count, we didn’t mind too much and just got on with the job in hand.
As the city fans dusted off the Posnan for one further outing, United’s were in full voice as they witnessed an archetypal meaningless end of season game. In the first forty-five minutes, most of its participants played as if they were already had their minds on the World Cup, including the ones who won’t be going. The first half saw passions raised only around two incidents involving Vidic. First, Southampton had animated claims for a penalty following an alleged handball against the United captain waved away before the same player was clearly elbowed by Lambert and lay with blood streaming from his face while the Southampton forward exploited the gap he left in the Reds’ defence to give his side the lead.
Whether it was a foul or not, it was certainly a curious decision for the ref to allow play to continue with a player on the floor following a head wound and the United players duly surrounded him and, in a rare show of first-half passion, let them know what they thought. They roused themselves more in the second half. With Carrick on as a half-time substitute, United began to take control of the midfield with Mata using the platform to weave some creative magic. It was the Spaniard who broke the deadlock for United, finding the net with a trademark left-footed free kick that left the keeper flat-footed.
From there, both sides had the better chances to win the game. Fletcher placed a free header wide of the left post and both Mata and Januzaj repeatedly threatened to break through the Southampton rearguard. The best chance fell to Welbeck with four minutes remaining, the forward being closed down as he attempted to latch onto an excellent through ball from Carrick.
The title was being decided elsewhere but, with United’s away support in full song throughout the game and even managing a conga towards the end, a visitor from out of space might well have assumed they were celebrating rather more than the end of a dismal campaign. That says everything about United’s hardcore support. Perhaps next season the team will reward them with a quick return to the success their loyalty deserves.