Manchester United were held to their third straight draw on the trot as Southampton forced the Red Devils to a stalemate in a Premier League clash at Old Trafford that was overshadowed by a nasty head injury suffered by United frontman Romelu Lukaku early on.
Lukaku had come close to opening the scoring when Juan Mata found him unmarked inside the box in the 3rd minute but the burly Belgian sent his effort just over the post.
And the Belgian’s involvement in his 20th league game in a row was brought to a sickening and premature end after he was involved in an accidental clash of heads with Southampton defender Wesley Hoedt in the 8th minute.
The striker collapsed to the ground immediately after getting struck in the back of his head and as medics raced to assist him, the atmosphere around Old Trafford was unbearably tense for the Belgian wasn’t moving.
Eventually he was stretchered off with oxygen support and as Old Trafford rose in unison to applaud him, the game re-started after a lengthy pause.
After back-to-back 2-2 draws had seen United fall further behind Manchester City, the pressure was on the Red Devils to register a win but they struggled to fashion clear-cut chances.
Jesse Lingard, who had scored a brace against Burnley in mid-week, felt Maya Yoshida had handled the ball, but referee Craig Pawson thought otherwise, despite replays suggesting the United winger had a case.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, on his first league start in two months, would swing in an inviting cross for Lingard but the United Academy graduate could not direct his effort on target and Southampton survived the United onslaught till half-time with their clean-sheet intact.
Southampton, despite playing without star striker Charlie Austin, looked dangerous on the counter and ideally should have taken the lead when James Ward-Prowse low cross found Shane Long inside the box.
While the Saints forward got a touch on it, United keeper David de Gea somehow managed to turn the shot over the goal, using his feet to make a save.
Considering his excellent stop early on in the first-half as well, United owed their clean-sheet largely to their incredible shot-stopper and while they did have one goal disallowed later on, it was another sub-par showing from the Red Devils. They could have conceded a penalty as well, if the match officials had spotted Ashley Young elbowing Dusan Tadic in the stomach during a Southampton corner.
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Chelsea had overtaken them after mauling Stoke City 5-0 earlier on Saturday and even fourth-ranked Liverpool are just three points behind them now.
The Red Devils next travel to Everton on New Year’s Day and their trip to Merseyside will be a tough one for the Toffees have taken points off the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea in recent weeks.
For Southampton, who had been on a dreadful run of late, the result will give them something to cheer for as they prepare for a clash against Crystal Palace on Monday night.