Robin van Persie endured a rollercoaster of an afternoon at St Mary’s, with the Netherlands international flitting between roles of hero and villain. He scored his second goal in as many games with a clinically taken left-footed strike in the 21st minute which cancelled out Rickie Lambert’s opener. However, Van Persie incurred Sir Alex Ferguson’s wrath in the second half. United, trailing 2-1 following Morgan Schneiderlin’s goal, were handed the chance to equalise from the spot after Jos Hooiveld’s rash challenge. The Dutch striker attempted to chip his effort over Kelvin Davis, but the poorly executed and unnecessarily audacious attempt was palmed wide. It appeared Van Persie was set for his first experience of the famous hair dryer treatment from the Red Devils manager. But, fortunately for the 28-year-old, he was on hand to finish from close range in the 87th minute to seemingly rescue a point for United and spare his own embarrassment. But any lingering frustration harboured by Ferguson towards his marquee signing certainly evaporated when the former Gunners captain got his head on Paul Scholes’ corner deep into injury time to snatch a valuable three points. With four goals already to his name, and Wayne Rooney out injured, Van Persie has already started to win over United hearts and could keep the England striker out of the first-team.
Despite failing to collect a single point in three games, Nigel Adkins’ side have plenty of reasons to be positive about the 35 games to come. Coming up against last season’s winners and runners-up in the opening trio of fixtures was always going to be a difficult assignment for any side – not least a newly-promoted one. There is no shame in 3-2 losses to Manchester City and United. Southampton have handled the demanding matches surprisingly well, showing a collective team spirit, a willingness to attack, and refreshingly, placing faith in youth. Adam Lallana impressed in central midfield, and he helped Southampton’s attacks to ebb and flow as they pressed the 19-time English champions. Alongside the Saints captain was James Ward-Prowse, 17, who must have caught the eye of Roy Hodgson in the stands as a great prospect for the future. Showing maturity beyond his years, he looked comfortable against a midfield of two current England internationals. Southampton’s big-name signing Gaston Ramirez will be present for the next match against Arsenal at The Emirates, providing a timely lift.
With United’s defence already ravaged by injuries, and Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic still searching for match sharpness, Ferguson would not have expected his two first-choice full-backs to be at fault for Southampton’s goals. For Lambert’s opener in the 16th minute, Rafael showed a lack of presence and strength as the broad striker leapt above his Brazilian opponent and headed the home side in front. The youngster’s attacking prowess is not in doubt, he offers United a great option going forward, but defensively, questions continue to linger over his concentration and temperament. For the Saints’ second, Lambert slung a ball across Anders Lindegaard’s area which found Schneiderlin unmarked, and the midfielder slammed the ball into the vacated net. Evra had been marking his compatriot, but an ill-timed slip as he attempted to make amends for his poor positioning allowed the 22-year-old to net. With Alexander Buttner waiting in the wings to step into the United first-team if needed, Evra will be under pressure to improve his performances following an unconvincing season.
England manager Hodgson was at St Mary’s for United’s 3-2 victory, and in the absence of Rooney and muted display from Danny Welbeck, perhaps thoughts of an unlikely call-up for Lambert crossed his mind. The 30-year-old football league journeyman has scored 78 goals in 129 appearances since joining Southampton in 2009. England will be without Andy Carroll for their World Cup qualifier against Moldova next Friday – perhaps making room for a target-man such as Lambert. Of course, it is unlikely, but it would be refreshing to see Hodgson call up a striker currently in top form. The bustling forward outmuscled Rafael to give Southampton a 16th-minute lead with a well-placed header. Last weekend, Lambert came off the bench to finish clinically from close range against City in a 3-2 loss. He has also emulated two England strikers, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe, who were the only players to score against both Manchester sides last season. If Hodgson is going to deliver on his promise of picking players on form and not reputation, he need look no further than Lambert. The Southampton fans certainly backed their talisman for a Three Lions cap with chants of ‘Lambert for England’ after he netted the club’s first Premier League goal at St Mary’s since May 2005.
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