x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ryan Giggs leads the cavalry as Manchester United beat Southampton

The veteran Welsh winger proved an inspired second-half substitute for Sir Alex Ferguson as his side came from a goal down to beat Southampton 2-1 and book their place in the FA Cup fifth round.

Jonny Evans of Manchester United battles with Rickie Lambert of Southampton during United's FA Cup fourth-round triumph at the St Mary's Stadium yesterday.
Jonny Evans of Manchester United battles with Rickie Lambert of Southampton during United's FA Cup fourth-round triumph at the St Mary's Stadium yesterday.

SOUTHAMPTON // That it required Sir Alex Ferguson sending on the cavalry for Manchester United to reach the FA Cup fifth round was a tribute to Southampton.

That is was substitute Ryan Giggs who dug United out of the hole they found themselves in was further testament to the unbelievable staying power of the 37-year-old Welshman. United were heading for defeat until Giggs and Nani followed Wes Brown off the bench.

Giggs immediately imposed a greater sense of energy and purpose into the United side as they clawed back from a 1-0 deficit to win. Then he brilliantly set up the 75th-minute winner for Javier Hernandez.

It was tough on Southampton, but another advert for the fascination the FA Cup can offer.

Although Southampton's Swiss-Italian owners have strangely airbrushed any evidence of the club's greatest triumph in their history out of the boardroom, they could not resist a romantic stroll down memory lane, presumably in an attempt to lift the fans and inspire the players.

Before kick-off, the big screen in St Mary's Stadium rolled out some retro footage of that magical day in 1976 when Southampton, then in the second tier of English football, toppled the might of United in what remains one of the biggest FA Cup final shocks, when they won 1-0.

The flashbacks certainly seemed to stir Southampton.

True it was very much a second string United side on display last night, but then again the gap between the clubs is now even greater than it was back in the 1970s - United now a global power while Southampton lie towards the top of English football's third tier.

Yet it was the home side who took control. And it was not all about the adrenalin rush of a classic mighty-versus-minor cup clash.

Southampton passed the ball around with patience and precision, but still trying to impose pace when called for even if their "wonderkid" Alex Chamberlain - linked to United and Arsenal - was relatively quiet. The visitors did not cope well in the first 45 minutes.

The only serious goal threat United made in the first half came in the 16th minute when Michael Owen, making a rare start in a deep-lying striker's role, mis-hit a cross from the right wing which then bounced back off the far post.

Southampton on the other hand kept probing a United defence that so obviously missed the authority of first-choice centre-back pairing, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

Southampton's left-back Dan Harding had an early effort ruled out for offside, but on the cusp of half time they took the lead.

Imposing striker Rickie Lambert flicked on a header which United centre-half Jonny Evans deflected into the path of Richard Chaplow. The midfielder strode on to the ball and crashed a shot home at the near post. Owen seemed lucky not to be one of the players taken off, but even if the ageing former England striker is losing his pace, his goal scoring instinct remains.

So, when Gabriel Obertan's 66th-minute cross was wildly deflected, Owen clicked into autopilot to react and darted home a header with the home defence wrong-footed.

Then in the 75th minute, Giggs once again showed his wily craft when he pounced on a loose ball and played in the pass of the game to send Hernandez, the Mexican striker, clear to slide in the winning goal.

"They played well - they're flying high in their division," Owen said in a television interview. "In the FA Cup, no matter what standard you're playing against, it's always really tough for the first 45 minutes, an hour. Then they tire and it's often the way that the better teams come good in the last half-hour."