United they fall as Saints hit six

Another day of despondency at the Dell for the champions as Keane's short fuse costs them dear again
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Southampton 6

Berkovitch 6, 83, Le Tissier 35,

Ostenstadt 45, 85, 89

Manchester United 3

Beckham 41, May 56, Scholes 89

Attendance: 15,253

An astonishing result for an astonishing game, as Manchester United found themselves caught up in "April 13th Part 2", the horrific sequel to the 3-1 defeat here at Southampton last season. Apart from the farce of having to change their shirts at half-time, United suffered no lasting damage to their pursuit of the Premiership on that occasion.

But this catastrophic loss, coming six days after their 5-0 rout at Newcastle, poses all sorts of questions about their morale and prospects for this season. Last time they only had to change their kit, but now some fundamental rebuilding of a large and disparate squad will almost certainly be necessary.

If we leave aside, for the moment, the sparkling football which an utterly revived Southampton side produced, United clearly have problems not only with Gary Pallister's injured back - he had to be substituted at half- time yesterday - but also with the rank indiscipline which the Irish international Roy Keane revealed yet again.

Keane was booked early on for dissent after United had claimed a penalty for a foul on Nicky Butt. But with United then a goal down, thanks a to a smart combination by Southampton's two dominant players, the Norwegian Egil Ostenstadt and the Israeli Eyal Berkovitch, Keane proceeded to get his second yellow card for a late lunge on Claus Lundekvam.

"I was very disappointed with the sending-off," a livid-faced Alex Ferguson said afterwards, although it was unclear whether his disappointment was directed at his player or the referee. "I'm not getting involved in all that carry-on," he snapped as he departed hastily to join his deflated team on the bus.

Though Ferguson is rarely one to leave any injustice unpublicised, he will, on calmer reflection, be brave enough to admit that United were almost always second best yesterday. In their defence, United might well have had a goal before Southampton scored for, apart from the penalty claim, Eric Cantona and then Butt fluffed chances. Butt was injured as David Beasant dived at his feet.

But the first goal was an elegant blueprint for the game as Berkovitch played Ostenstadt in with a superb flick. The Norwegian's shot was saved by Peter Schmeichel but Berkovitch rifled home the rebound.

With Butt soon substituted and Keane off, the first half began to look ominous for United. Matthew Le Tissier fashioned a chance for himself but dragged his shot wide, and then Schmeichel denied him at close range.

But this was only delaying the sublime moment on 35 minutes when Le Tissier picked up a pass from Berkovitch, went past Brian McClair and added to the embarrassment of Schmeichel by exposing the Dane yet again to another wonderful chipped shot.

Southampton fans were baiting United with the chant of "Have you got another kit?" But United looked to have partially redeemed their performance when David Beckham produced a precise curling free-kick from 25 yards to beat both Beasant and the defender on the line. At 2-1 with the interval looming United were still in it but once again Berkovitch sent Ostenstadt down the left and the Norwegian bustled past David May to drive home inside the near post.

The Dell was in tumult at this stage, especially as Cantona was spotted ill-advisedly tangling with Southampton's giant Dutch defender Ulrich Van Gobbel as the half-time whistle sounded.

Passions had cooled by the restart with Southampton backing off, waiting to exploit United's desperation. The Saints almost overdid it, allowing May to rise at the far post to head home Beckham's free-kick and for a good part of the second half United heroically believed that their 10 men could still get something from this game.

But Southampton added three goals in the last eight minutes as United's comeback was drained of fuel. Berkovitch lashed a first-time volley into the top corner as a cleared corner dropped to him, and moments later the Israeli sent Ostenstadt through to tuck home his second goal. The Norwegian completed a notional hat-trick as Philip Neville turned his goal-bound shot into his own net whilst almost unnoticed Paul Scholes smuggled a small consolation for United from close range. Very small, as this was the first time United had conceded six since losing 6-0 at Ipswich in March 1980.

Afterwards the Southampton manager Graeme Souness hailed Berkovitch as the best "player-in" he'd ever seen, whilst also nominating his pounds 900,000 signing from Viking FC as "a great sniffer of goals". Viking - United truly were put to the sword.