United exposed by Le Tissier

Taibi fumble com£wasteful finishing as strain of Europe shows at Old Trafford
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The Independent Football

THE LAST thing that Manchester United wanted was another physically searching Premiership game in the middle of their European trials. Presumably the next worst thing on their list of disagreeable events was to miss 10 chances, as Sir Alex Ferguson extravagantly claimed, and give away daft goals. None seen at Old Trafford over the years could have been much dafter than the one given to Matthew Le Tissier by United's new goalkeeper, Massimo Taibi, who was also a bystander as Le Tissier scored Southampton's third and merited equalising strike.

THE LAST thing that Manchester United wanted was another physically searching Premiership game in the middle of their European trials. Presumably the next worst thing on their list of disagreeable events was to miss 10 chances, as Sir Alex Ferguson extravagantly claimed, and give away daft goals. None seen at Old Trafford over the years could have been much dafter than the one given to Matthew Le Tissier by United's new goalkeeper, Massimo Taibi, who was also a bystander as Le Tissier scored Southampton's third and merited equalising strike.

Southampton have spent years being portrayed as country cousins of their big city relatives. So when two high ranking clubs, both involved in the Champions' League, were matched against them within a week it would have been understandable had they thought the fixtures computer was cruelly reminding them of the fact. Yet they had run all over Arsenal the previous Saturday without quite knowing where it would all lead, which was to a late defeat. Arsenal had the excuse for a sloppy performance in that they had endured a tough game in Florence. Yesterday United had little reason to make a similar excuse in spite of themselves having been on the midweek European treadmill in Austria. Ferguson admitted: "Sturm Graz didn't tax us. So we didn't need to rest anyone today. But when you score three goals at home you ought to be in a position to take players off to rest them for the next European game."

Although without Roy Keane, who is to be rested for another week, Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs, United could still delve into their extensive squad while Southampton were short of first-team players either through injury or suspension, which meant placing a lot of hope on Mark Hughes on his return to Old Trafford where the crowd still welcome him as if one of their own.

Having survived the dangers of several early brilliantly contrived attacks set up by David Beckham, Southampton benefited from Hughes when no United player closed him down as he searched out the lone Saints striker, Marian Pahars, who turned Jaap Stam and had time to take careful aim from inside the penalty area and sidefoot in a 16th-minute goal.

Beckham continued to provide most of what was promising in United's efforts without anyone else quite matching his perception. And even from his straightforward corner Henning Berg was unable to do more than head against the post. Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham were unable to get a head of steam against the solid interceptions of Dean Richards and Claus Lundekvam until in the 34th minute when Beckham played an inviting low ball towards the near post that Sheringham prodded home.

For all of the tempting suggestions that Beckham should play as a central midfield provider, the cost to United in terms of his ability to set up attacks from either side of the front line would be debilitating. Yesterday he alone ensured that United had the quality of passes to pull themselves ahead of Southampton again. His cross after his own corner from the left had returned to him was as accurate as ever for Sheringham whose header was skilfully deflected by Paul Jones. Sheringham regained possession and his ball forwards was headed by Yorke beyond Jones.

Le Tissier's arrival for Southampton after half time brought the usual roars of adulation but he can never have rewarded them with such a bizarre goal as the first he scored yesterday. Le Tissier had settled on to the ball some 30 yards out and with what seemed a waste of effort sent a low shot directly at Taibi, who, until this moment in the 57th minute, had looked like a safe replacement for the departed Peter Schmeichel. He bent down to collect the ball, somehow let it slip through his fingers and legs and turned to see it dawdle over the goal-line. David Jones, the Southampton manager, even confessed that as he saw Le Tissier make what appeared to be a tame strike he had "turned away in disgust".

To Taibi's relief the consequence of his embarrassment was not to last all that long. United had been drawn into a more demanding contest than they would have wanted since they play Marseille this week but, when Nicky Butt centred, Yorke was unmarked and sweetly curled in a fine shot. Yet still Southampton fought. Hughes had the crossbar vibrating with a 30-yard drive which this time had Jones leaping with anticipation. Ironically, Le Tissier needed virtually no power at all to equalise when, in the 74th minute, Mikael Silvestre lost the ball to Pahars, whose centre Le Tissier simply redirected past the goalkeeper.

The pressure that United applied over the last 10 minutes failed to break resolute Southampton, who could even have won in injury time when James Beattie broke away. Taibi saved with his feet - he needed to.

Half-time: 2-1

Attendance: 55,249

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