United’s miserable season ends

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iol spt may11 Mata-Saints Getty Images Manchester United ended a miserable season with a 1-1 draw at Southampton that saw them finish the campaign in seventh place. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Manchester United ended a miserable season with a 1-1 draw at Southampton that saw them finish the campaign in seventh place in the Premier League.

Juan Mata produced one of the few moments of quality in the match with a curling free-kick to level after Rickie Lambert had given Southampton the lead.

But even as United celebrated their comeback, news from north London, where Tottenham Hotspur overcame Aston Villa 3-0, confirmed that they had failed to qualify for Europe for the first time since the 1989-90 season.

United needed Tottenham to lose to stand any chance of sneaking into the Europa League, but their draw meant that they would not have been in a position to exploit a slip-up anyway.

Captain Nemanja Vidic said his United farewell, and both Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra may also have bowed out, while interim manager Ryan Giggs took charge of the team for the fourth and probably final time.

It could be all change at Southampton, too, with only a minority of Saints fans expecting Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw -- both keenly watched by England head coach Roy Hodgson on Sunday -- to be at St Mary's next season.

Veteran player-coach Giggs made seven changes to the team that beat Hull City in mid-week, allowing Ferdinand and Vidic to play together in the centre of defence one last time before the Serbian joins Inter Milan.

Mata, Evra, Darren Fletcher, Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie also came into the team, but Wayne Rooney was rested due to a groin injury.

Southampton were looking to end their best season since 2002-03 on a high, and they appealed for a penalty after four minutes when Vidic appeared to elbow the ball, but referee Mike Dean was uninterested.

Then Lallana's attempt to flick home a long-range effort from Victor Wanyama only succeeded in taking the sting out of the shot and allowing David De Gea to save with ease.

After 20 minutes Lallana and Shaw combined, with Shaw looping a header onto the roof of De Gea's net.

It was a reflection of the run of play when Southampton took the lead after 28 minutes, although United complained that Lambert had elbowed Vidic before taking a pass from Steven Davis and beating De Gea at his near post.

Replays, though, suggested that Lambert had not moved his elbow and that the contact, although causing Vidic to bleed profusely, was accidental.

Chris Smalling had United's first serious effort at goal after 33 minutes, a low angled shot past the post from 20 yards, but the hosts looked more likely to score again, with Lallana bamboozling Ferdinand before driving wide.

Giggs replaced the ineffective Shinji Kagawa with Michael Carrick at half-time and after 54 minutes United were level.

Wanyama fouled Welbeck 20 yards out and Mata artfully curled the free-kick past the left hand of Artur Boruc.

That took the stuffing out of the home side, and they could even have gone 2-1 behind seconds later as Welbeck met Adnan Januzaj's cross with a firm header, but aimed it too high.

Fletcher should have given United the lead after 65 minutes when he escaped his markers at the far post, but he headed Smalling's cross wide.

Lallana and Shaw were both substituted early to give them a chance to receive personal ovations from the home crowd, and Southampton predictably struggled to create any dangerous situations after that.

But United, as so often this season, found it hard to take advantage. Welbeck read Carrick's forward pass better than the defenders, but lifted his shot over the bar with only Boruc to beat.– AFP


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