Other than struggling to get his boots on, Edinson Cavani’s only other transgression at Southampton was that he celebrated his equalising goal.
Cavani screamed a vamos, was congratulated by Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic, mimicked Robin Hood and saluted Juan Mata. Bruno Fernandes was nearer the halfway line within seconds of the ball bouncing out of the net and repeatedly beckoned his teammates back into the United half for the restart.
United uploaded the clip of Fernandes on Tuesday morning and quipped: “It’s the mentality for us.” Carlos Tevez – and 7,000 United supporters in the Darwen End – deliriously celebrated a late leveller at Blackburn in 2008. Cristiano Ronaldo’s instinct was to fish the ball out of the net. Only Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand pursued the jubilant Tevez.
Just as impressive as Fernandes’ reaction was Dean Henderson’s 50 yards further back. There was never any chance of Henderson being cowed on his Premier League debut for a club he has been attached to for more than nine years and he implored his teammates to ‘keep going’ for the winner.
Manchester United secured a dramatic comeback victory at Southampton on Sunday, largely thanks to Edinson Cavani’s two goals off the bench.
Bruno Fernandes’ goal set Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side on course to battle back from 2-0 down at St Mary’s, giving United a third successive Premier League win.
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Henderson’s maiden league appearance for United was overdue. He still had his pre-match warm-up regalia on when he emerged with the goalkeeping coach Craig Mawson at half-time on Sunday before disappearing back down the tunnel, offering a thumbs up to a United staff member sat in the stands. All the signs suggested he had loosened up as a precaution, given David de Gea had made a save after he collided into the post and left the pitch unaided.
The candid camera in the St Mary’s tunnel soon showed Henderson in his full kit, waiting for Harry Maguire to lead United back out. This time he was sporting match gloves.
De Gea had not been forced off in a match since the draw with Arsenal in May 2015, seemingly his swan song until the Bernabeu fax machine malfunctioned. De Gea was United’s sole undisputed world-class player back then and now many regard him as the second-best goalkeeper at United.
Henderson was so loud at St Mary’s he could have made the nearby church bells chime. De Gea has sounded more voluble this season and his vocal cords have not just been amplified by the empty stands.
De Gea is an introvert to Henderson’s extrovert and the return of the academy graduate has jolted the United No.1, with Carrington sources noting De Gea’s training performances have improved with the presence of Henderson.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is such a shy personality he makes De Gea appear extroverted and was startled when Henderson bellowed his name, instructing him to retreat to the halfway line after United earned one of their five second-half corners. Henderson, haunted by the United defence allocating acres to Demba Ba last month, was not about to let it happen again.
Henderson was nearer the halfway line than his goal line for one corner and repeatedly screamed ‘up’, demanding United pen Southampton in like commuters in rush hour. “Get up!” Henderson hollered whenever the United line dropped. He looked certain to hurtle up the other end to join the bundle on Cavani but just about resisted.
Henderson cleanly gathered two straight shots, had two goal kicks, made two clearances and distributed the ball seven times. But his standout attribute was his personality that underpinned United’s comeback and convinced the timid Wan-Bissaka to decamp in the Southampton half.
“Dean came on, very assured,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. “Had a couple of half-saves to make but he was tidy and safe with the ball at his feet.”
Henderson’s faultless 51 minutes spared Solskjaer. He had erred by overlooking Henderson for the stroll against Istanbul Basaksehir last week after telling Henderson he could expect to play in both ties against the Turkish champions.
“I can’t see the logic in only one potential appearance left before Christmas,” Solskjaer said on the eve of Basaksehir’s visit. “Do you know how many games we’ve got?” The trouble was it was difficult to determine when Henderson would play before the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Everton on December 23 until De Gea limped off.
United have Paris Saint-Germain at home, West Ham away, RB Leipzig away, Manchester City at home, Sheffield United away and Leeds at home. De Gea’s scan will determine how often Henderson plays between now and Father Christmas wriggling his way down the chimney, rather than his form.
And De Gea’s form has started to wobble again; he was blameworthy for both free-kicks United conceded last week and the ball skimmed Jan Bednarek’s crown with the Southampton defender in the six-yard box. Solskjaer stayed loyal to De Gea when Sergio Romero merited a Premier League playing time, never mind semi-final starts, and the Spaniard’s injury could ease the changing of the guard in goal.
Henderson has told confidants he is desperate for a run of games to showcase his importance, especially after attaining his first England cap and with the European Championship six months away.
He was more prepared for the call than Cavani.