If he had not used his final substitution Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have been tempted to send himself on and pillage four goals.
“Get more goals. Ten minutes,” Solskjaer shouted in the 81st minute. United did. Even when unable to twist the knife himself, Solskjaer was sharpening it.
He spent the whole evening sat in the dugout but, unlike at Nottingham Forest in 1999, United won by a greater margin. Cajoled by Harry Maguire, they pushed for a ninth to equal the Premier League record 9-0 they jointly hold with Leicester, who demolished Southampton by the same scoreline last season. Southampton were seemingly spared by the three added minutes and then Daniel James crowned the night.
Sir Alex Ferguson oversaw the evisceration of Ipswich Town in 1995 and was present to see the present side emulate the double winners. The only blemish was the unconscionable officiating by the referee Mike Dean, revelling in the limelight and fashioning a sending off when there did not seem to be one. The scoreline was 7-0 at the time.
“Keep going, boys,” Solskjaer demanded at 2-0. United were certain of going level on points with Manchester City but their goal difference was 14 worse at kick-off and now it is five. Mason Greenwood partnered Edinson Cavani in the first-half and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was effectively a right winger.
Solskjaer was defensive of United’s struggles in recording thrashings on the eve of this match and this was a night for the attackers. United players had been urged to be more streetwise with referees but Alexandre Jankewitz brought street fighting to the pitch.
Jankewitz, 19, must have hoped to make a mark on his Southampton debut and did – on Scott McTominay’s left thigh. Just 77 seconds were on the clock at the time Jankewitz embedded his stud marks on the United midfielder. It took Dean five more seconds to flourish the red card and he might as well have accompanied it with a white flag.
Barnet goalkeeper Ross Flitney was harshly dismissed after 100 seconds in a 2005 League Cup tie at Old Trafford and he will be pleased to no longer be a pub quiz answer. Jankewitz’s expulsion so demoralised an injury-laden Southampton it was merely a matter of how many United would triumph by.
What almost got lost amid the reflections on the dismissal was Marcus Rashford bungled an opening to put United ahead from the immediate restart. Southampton creditably held firm for 18 minutes until Wan-Bissaka, of all people, made Rashford’s miss moot in the 19th minute with his first Old Trafford goal, fashioned by fellow full-back Luke Shaw.
That was the cue for United to cut loose and record a rare victory by at least a two-goal margin. Times four plus one. United beat Southampton 5-0 and 6-1 at the start of the century and a combined scoreline seemed possible. It was so straightforward Donny van de Beek was introduced at half-time. Surprisingly, Bruno Fernandes re-emerged for the second-half, and converted the obligatory penalty.
The shellacking of tactical anarchists Leeds represented United’s sole cakewalk prior to kick-off. Southampton have a reasonable record at Old Trafford and had not been overwhelmed since the last season they were relegated from the top flight in 2004-05. Nobody could have foreseen this capitulation, 16 months on from their 9-0 humbling by Leicester.
Solskjaer understandably wanted to maintain momentum with Fernandes and Rashford kept on beyond the interval and Shaw and Edinson Cavani were hooked. That was compromised by the relocation of Fred to left-back and the hour-mark introduction of Daniel James, only treated to cameos when a game is boxed off.
Fred was culpable for Che Adams’s consolation that so enraged David de Gea he started swearing in his native language and was the scariest Spanish-speaker since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men . Maguire was also affronted by Southampton breaching United before VAR, in one of its most superfluous interventions, disallowed the goal. United responded with five more goals.
Cavani is unlikely to have appreciated his withdrawal but this was as good a chance as any for Anthony Martial to regain confidence with a goal. That was partly the tactic behind Martial’s recall against Sheffield United and, unlike last week, he netted – twice. Michael Carrick marvelled at McTominay’s rifled strike and Mike Phelan voiced his approval for Mason Greenwood’s probing.
Maguire roars ‘go on!’ with the gusto of a supporter yet Shaw does not require motivational messages any more. His charge resulted in another goal, diverted in by Rashford.
Wan-Bissaka still seeks permission to advance but he had the freedom of the right-hand side and showcased flair a Brazilian right-back would have recognised. However anomalous Wan-Bissaka’s attacking was, it was reminiscent of the forages he embarked on prior to the first lockdown that contributed to his regression in the final third.
Maguire was on the recalled Greenwood’s case for failing to win a second ball inside his own half and United maintained the intensity with an own goal and a Cavani header. Carrick and Phelan were sportingly muted in the technical area, although the latter had a chuckle at the luckless Jan Bednarek’s misfortune in beating his own ‘keeper. Bednarek was later sent off.
United got more goals.