September 23, 2017

Manchester United 1 Southampton 0 : Romelu Lukaku strikes again but United fans ignore pleas to stop singing offensive song


Jose Mourinho tapped Mauricio Pellegrino on the arm and clasped hands with a rather surprised Southampton manager before bidding his farewell individually to each of the home team’s staff and then walking, with a studied air of disdain, away from his bench at St Mary’s Stadium.
The game had not yet finished and this was not one of Mournho’s usual pre-final whistle stunts, rather the Manchester United manager had been sent off, which did at least allow him to bask in the place he loves to be. That being right in the spotlight, and with his team just one goal up and Southampton having hammered on the door all second half, it could not be discounted that Mourinho had cooked this one up.
He encroached on the pitch when Southampton flooded forward in injury-time, the United manager frantically pointing his players into the positions he wanted them. He then styled it out as heat-of-the-moment stuff, wrapping a friendly arm around the waist of Mike Jones, the fourth official, but it was too late. Jones had already summoned Pawson over via the headset and the United manger was invited to spend the final few moments watching from the stands.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is sent to the stands by referee Craig Pawson
That's yer lot: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is sent to the stands by referee Craig Pawson CREDIT: REUTERS
It had been a strange afternoon for his team, who took the lead in the first 20 minutes through Romelu Lukaku, looked comfortable before the break, and then back came Saints led by Gabonese midfielder Mario Lemina, the man of the match. With 20 minutes left, Mourinho switched to a five-man defence and gave up any pretence of trying to press Southampton higher up the pitch, instead inviting the pressure upon his back line and relying upon them holding out.

The sixth league goal of the season for Lukaku came during a first half in which United fans returned to the song about their new striker that club and player had asked them not to sing. The song, rightly condemned for its racial stereotyping of Lukaku, and with its clunking “24-inch penis” line, still seems acceptable to a worrying number of the club’s supporters. It was followed by a burst of “We’re Man United, we’ll sing what we want” and then it was not heard again, in its place something uncontentious about the Belgian No 9.
United said after the game that they had a “zero tolerance stance on offensive chanting and behaviour” and would identify the fans responsible from CCTV. “The club and player have been clear in asking for an end to the chant. The club has worked with relevant bodies and supporters groups in trying to eradicate any offensive behaviour and will take further action against individuals if this continues. The club, in discussion with the police, has asked for CCTV footage from Southampton and will try to identify those who disrespected the player's wishes not to sing the song." 
Mourinho chose not to condemn the fans afterwards for the song, instead saying that he only hears “the music” during the game if it happens to be about him – “when they tell Mourinho to go to a place”. As for the dismissal, Mourinho claimed innocence of why it had even occurred, although as ever with him, there’s nothing without a reason. “I don't know” he said when asked to explain the events. “I don't know. Craig told me to leave, and I left.”

Lukaku’s goal came from an Ashley Young cross from the left, the winger mystifyingly shown onto his right foot by Dusan Tadic and lofting a nice ball for the striker to attack. The Dutch international Wesley Hoedt, excellent the previous week at Selhurst Park, seemed to lose his footing at the crucial moment and Lukaku leapt over him to connect for a good header. Fraser Forster saved well and Lukaku tidied up the rebound for the game’s only goal.
Nathan Redmond rues Southampton's failure to score
How did this happen? Nathan Redmond rues Southampton's failure to scoreCREDIT: GETTY
Before the break, Southampton just about matched United in every area of the pitch apart from when it came to Saints turning decent possession into a goal threat. Shane Long, a success against Palace, led the line, hustling and closing down, but his side never really looked like scoring. In midfield, Lemina was very much at home in exulted company and nothing tried by Marouane Fellaini, in place of the injured Paul Pogba, could put Saints’ record signing off his game.
The game had begun with the club introducing to the crowd their new majority shareholder, Gao Jisheng of Lander Holdings, who paid £210 million for an 80 per cent stake. The Chinese businessman, flanked by the pair of chairman Ralph Krueger and former controlling-stake owner Katharina Liebherr, looked thrilled and he will have appreciated a brave second-half performance.
Pellegrino said that his side had competed well, although they do lack that goal threat. “Every single game is different,” he said. “But, for me, to play in this way with this spirit, with this football, we'll win more games than we lose. I am sure. This is the best thing for us. We have to continue in this way.”
Mario Lemina and Marouane Fellaini
Battle: Mario Lemina and Marouane Fellaini CREDIT: REUTERS
There were three good chances for Oriol Romeu which the Spanish midfielder failed to convert. Pellegrino sent on Manolo Gabbiadini in place of Steven Davis and moved Long to the left, finally bringing on Charlie Austin too. It was then that Mourinho switched to a five-man defence and in his post-match comments he seemed a little guilty having criticised others in the past for doing the same.
“We did for 20 minutes what the majority of the Premier League teams are doing, which is to play defensively with five at the back,” he said. “We had chances to kill the game and score the second goal, but didn't. And then, honestly, I felt Southampton were strong. I felt the manager enthusiastic, excited, risking, bringing two strikers like Gabbiadini and Austin to play direct, and also in a style that isn't normally their style. So I made the decision to bring on Smalling and the team were solid, good solidarity, organisation and spirit, and amazing points.”

Mourinho also suggested that the south coast sunshine had drained his players, so unused to it are they in Manchester. His players had to battle hard for this win but they have kept pace with Manchester City for now.
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