Man United held at home by stubborn Southampton

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Manchester United’s winless Premier League run stretched to three games as they laboured to a goalless draw against a resolute Southampton at Old Trafford.

United will head into 2018 in third place after Chelsea beat Stoke 5-0 earlier in the day, while Manchester City have the chance to increase their lead to 16 points when they visit Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Striker Romelu Lukaku was taken off on a stretcher for the hosts in the first half, having earlier headed a good chance over the bar.

Paul Pogba did have the ball in the net for Jose Mourinho’s side late on, but his effort was ruled out for offside.

The Portuguese also felt his side should have had a “clear penalty” in the first half when the ball appeared to catch Southampton defender Maya Yoshida’s arm.

But Southampton also had opportunities to win the game.

Goalkeeper David de Gea somehow managed to guide Shane Long’s effort over the crossbar with his foot from Saints’ best chance.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have now gone eight games without a win since the 4-1 thrashing of Everton on 26 November.

Mourinho spoke at length before Saturday’s game about how Lukaku was suffering from fatigue, having played every minute of the club’s Premier League campaign.

The Belgium striker was again chosen to lead the line at Old Trafford, with the Portuguese saying “I cannot rest him”.

After beginning his United career with 11 goals in 10 games Lukaku has netted only four in the last 19, and headed over a good chance from Juan Mata’s inviting cross after just three minutes.

But that would be the 24-year-old’s last involvement, with the striker clashing heads with Southampton defender Wesley Hoedt and having to be taken off on a stretcher.

It was a concerning sight for Mourinho and Manchester United with the game stopped for five minutes as the medical team kept the forward on the pitch before moving him.

Lukaku, who remained conscious, departed to applause from both sets of supporters.

“Money” has been the word on Manchester United boss Mourinho’s lips recently, with the Portuguese insisting the club cannot compete with Manchester City’s spending.

He also asked journalists to question Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp over his 2016 threat to quit the game rather than spend inflated transfer fees, after the Reds agreed a £75m deal to sign Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk on 1 January.

A United starting XI assembled for £378m failed to break down Southampton, even without the soon-to-be world’s most expensive defender Van Dijk.

Lukaku’s chance was probably the best of the first half, but Mata also forced a save from Alex McCarthy – replacing the dropped Fraser Forster in the Saints’ goal – and Jesse Lingard glanced a header wide when in a good position.

Pogba then poked in from close range from an offside position late on, but United offered little without the threat of Lukaku, while striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not named in the squad because of injury.

Marcus Rashford was the man chosen to replace Lukaku, and it was he and another one of United’s academy products, Lingard, that looked most likely to create something among a team of expensive names.

But Southampton had the nous to deal with the pace and trickery of United’s youngsters, picking up an important point in the process.

Few would have expected Southampton to come away from Old Trafford with a victory, despite doing so on two of their past three visits, and even though they increased their winless run to eight games it was a well-earned point for Pellegrino’s side.

Having shipped five goals in a defeat by Tottenham at Wembley on Boxing Day, the visitors had clearly addressed their defensive issues and put in an assured performance.

Yoshida and Hoedt, with young full-backs Sam McQueen and Jack Stephens outside them, marshalled a well-organised back four that allowed United few chances.

There were signs of encouragement for the visitors going forward, too, with James Ward-Prowse forcing De Gea into a save in the first half and Long seeing his effort turned over after the break.

However this run makes grim reading for Southampton fans, with the side suffering their longest streak without a victory since the 2004-05 season, in which they finished bottom and were relegated.

The south-coast outfit sit 13th, but are just two points above the relegation zone heading in 2018 and how they reinvest the £75m they are set to receive for Van Dijk in January could well determine how they fare next year.

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