Lukaku head in­jury gives Manch­ester United cause for con­cern

The National - News - - SPORT - RICHARD JOLLY

Even as Manch­ester United stut­tered again and dropped more points, per­haps the piv­otal mo­ment did not in­volve shots or saves.

It came eight min­utes in and re­sulted in the de­par­ture of Jose Mour­inho’s No 9.

Romelu Lukaku was taken off af­ter a clash of heads with Wes­ley Hoedt, ex­it­ing on a stretcher.

United’s med­i­cal staff de­cided Lukaku did not need to go to hospi­tal, which was an en­cour­ag­ing sign in it­self but, a day af­ter Mour­inho had said he could not rest Lukaku, he was forced to play with­out him.

And for how long?

Even with his re­cent bar­ren spell, he has still scored 15 goals. He was a con­stant. Mour­inho’s squad was al­ready stretched, even if the other ab­sences are more in de­fence and mid­field.

With­out him, United drew a third con­sec­u­tive game.

Lukaku could have shaped the score­line in his cameo. United were be­hind af­ter three min­utes on Box­ing Day.

They ought to have been ahead at the same stage four days later.

Juan Mata picked out Lukaku with an invit­ing cross, but the striker headed over the bar.

Mar­cus Rash­ford came on. Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan had al­ready come in from the cold, though a cou­ple of mis­placed crosses sug­gested he may re­turn there af­ter a sur­prise start.

He at least found his range with a cen­tre that Jesse Lin­gard headed just wide.

Be­fore then, United had been de­nied a penalty when Maya Yoshida stuck out an arm to block as Lin­gard tried to flick the ball past him.

The of­fi­cials de­nied them again when an offside Paul Pogba had a win­ner chalked off.

It felt need­less as An­thony Mar­tial’s shot might have been go­ing in be­fore Pogba ap­plied the fi­nal touch.

They were fac­ing a Southamp­ton side with a dif­fer­ence, with Fraser Forster dropped af­ter his lat­est wretched dis­play against Tot­ten­ham.

His re­place­ment Alex McCarthy proved re­li­able, mak­ing a fine save from Mata.

At the other end, once again United could be grate­ful for the bril­liance of David de Gea.

The Spa­niard dis­played his ath­leti­cism to claw away a low shot and then a curl­ing free kick from James Ward-Prowse.

The set-piece spe­cial­ist also took the cor­ner that Hoedt met with a free header.

He could have scored. He should have hit the tar­get. He did nei­ther.

Then, from Ward-Prowse’s low cross, Shane Long had the op­por­tu­nity to score his first goal for 322 days.

But for a fine save from De Gea, he would have done.

United’s med­i­cal staff de­cided Lukaku did not need to go to the hospi­tal

Press As­so­ci­a­tion

Romelu Lukaku was car­ried off on a stretcher af­ter clash­ing heads with Southamp­ton’s Wes­ley Hoedt

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