Manchester United. . . . .1
SKY spectacular? Not a bit of it. Just a downpour from the heavens that made for a game difficult to play, and difficult to appreciate, and nearly ruined Manchester United's chance of recording their first win of the season.
That chance was Dion Dublin's. It was created by Dennis Irwin and the mercurial Ryan Giggs, but it skidded sharply off the side of Dublin's boot when a dry ball might have flown more sharply goal-bound. The drama was all in the last-minute timing and nothing in the nature of the strike - just a six-yard side-footed tap-in. But it finally puts some life into United's unimpressive start to the season as well.
The game had a very, very slow start. Both sides struggled to make any sense of the conditions while the travelling United fans struggled to make sense of the opposition. Chants of 'Chelsea, Chelsea' emanated from the away supporters' end, a comment on the David Speedie and Kerry Dixon combination upfront and Kenny Monkou's first appearance in the Southampton defence. While Stamford Bridge would have been proud of the Dixon-Speedie combinations that twice threatened the United goal early on, it was United's own boys in blue (their away strip) who took control in the second quarter.
Brian McClair, Giggs and Mark Hughes fed on Paul Ince's intelligent distribution to open the opposition defence but it was that man Monkou who was their chief foil. Monkou's heroic debut, however, almost came to grief when the game's new law ruled his fine interception of a dangerous Giggs run to be a deliberate back-pass. The farce of seeing Monkou's skill being ruled against him only increased with the free-kick ball placed on the edge of the six-yard box and the referee desperately trying to enforce the 10-yard defenders' retreat. Tim Flowers, the Southampton goalkeeper, charged the kick early - picking up Southampton's eighth booking of the season - and after two minutes, when the kick was eventually taken, Ince's shot rebounded, ironically off Monkou.
Southampton's reply came only on the break - one stunning Dixon volley from 20 yards just missing the bar - and as the game settled into a pattern, Manchester United settled in the opposition half. Giggs was the orchestrator of all things dangerous, exuding flair and flamboyance and swerving at will in and out of the Southampton defence.
All Giggs's creations threatened to come to nothing. It was his link-up with Irwin that lined up Dublin's miscued chance and it was his successive crosses that were stolen off the toes of Hughes and McClair by Monkou and Micky Adams.
At the other end, Southampton nearly turned an apparent draw into a win, but Lee squandered a good chance. No such squandering in United's next sweep upfield. A free-kick fired over from the right by Darren Ferguson found McClair's head and ran through for Dublin to strike it home.
Southampton: Flowers; Kenna, Adams, Hurlock, Monkou, Moore, Speedie, Cockerill, Dixon, Dowie (Lee, 56), Benali. Substitutes not used: Hall, Andrews (gk).
Manchester United: Schmeichel; Phelan, Irwin, Bruce, Ferguson, Pallister, Dublin, Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Kanchelskis, Wallace, Walsh (gk).
Referee: R Lewis (Gt Bookham).