United conceded a costly late goal against Southampton at Old Trafford and failed to capitalise on losses suffered by Chelsea and Leicester.
On a day when Manchester United found out exactly what was needed for them to secure Champions League football next season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team fluffed their lines, conceding an injury-time equaliser from Southampton at Old Trafford.
That had the knock-on effect of ensuring that any team hoping to reach the promised land of the Champions League would have to finish inside the top four. Fifth would no longer be good enough.
That, though, is exactly where United find themselves tonight; level on points with a stuttering Leicester City but on the outside looking in.
With Chelsea and Leicester both on the end of significant defeats over the weekend, a win for United would have seen them jump up to third with just three more league games remaining. A goal from Michael Obafemi in the 96th minute, however, means the race for the top four could go now to a nail-biting, final day clash against Leicester.
Their recent form had been imperious. Since the draw at Tottenham, their first fixture after the restart, United had reeled off four consecutive wins. That run, aligned with the dodgy form of Leicester and Chelsea, had led the English record champions to become likely candidates to make the Champions League.
But now, following City’s win in the courts and this damaging blow, it’s back up for grabs.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side made life difficult for United all night long. Their strong defensive shape, high press and compact midfield meant the hosts struggled to make an impact from the get-go.
“Tight, tight, tight, keep it tight,” the Saints boss screamed from the touchline and it was Danny Ings doing just that, an action which led to Southampton deservedly taking the lead. Ings caught Paul Pogba in possession on the edge of the area, then fed the ball to Nathan Redmond.
Redmond delivered a good ball to the back post where Stuart Armstrong was there to finish in style – and the visitors were hungry for more, with Redmond on the charge again a minute later.
But United, unbeaten since January and playing an unchanged side for the fifth consecutive league game, had the confidence to get back into the game through the deadly strike force of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. Their majestic ability turned the game on its head in the space of two minutes and 31 seconds.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka navigated his way through a compact Saints backline with some excellent footwork but it was Martial who really impressed to bring United back on terms. Pogba played the ball into the area and Martial somehow managed to poke the ball to Rashford as he was falling to the ground under a challenge from Armstrong.
There were loud shouts for a penalty but United didn’t need one as Rashford showed his composure to level things up with his 16th goal of the season. Martial’s assist meant it was the sixth time the pair linked up for a goal in the current campaign. No duo have combined for more goals for United in a single season and, while their partnership is fruitful, they have a personal battle going on to become top scorer this term.