Sergio Romero displayed some eye-catching pre-Europa League final form by saving a penalty as Manchester United drew 0-0 at Southampton in their penultimate Premier League game on Wednesday.
United manager Jose Mourinho has confirmed Romero will start against Ajax in Stockholm next Wednesday and his early save from Manolo Gabbiadini helped the visitors stop the rot after successive losses to Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Argentina international, deputising for the rested David de Gea, also produced a string of saves early in the second half at St Mary’s to keep Claude Puel’s Southampton at bay.
But the result had no material impact on United’s season, given they were already guaranteed to finish sixth, and Mourinho will have been concerned by injuries sustained by Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini.
Mourinho is now guaranteed to finish his first United season with fewer league victories than either of his two maligned predecessors, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, mustered in the previous three seasons.
Southampton have now gone four top-flight home games without scoring for the first time and remain eighth, which is the highest position they can hope to achieve ahead of Sunday’s final game at home to Stoke City.
The game was only five minutes old when an impulsive decision by Eric Bailly, and some generous officiating, gifted Southampton a chance to go ahead.
After sizing up Cedric’s crossfield pass as it sailed towards him, Bailly inexplicably chose to control it using his upper left arm and although he was outside the box, referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot.
Fortunately for the Ivorian, Romero spared his blushes, brilliantly throwing himself to his right to palm away Gabbiadini’s low spot-kick.
Eager to start afresh, Bailly soon found himself in an advanced position and after ghosting past Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens, he bludgeoned a shot straight at Fraser Forster.
United, who lined up with Wayne Rooney up front, went close twice in the first half, Anthony Martial dragging wide from Rooney’s pass and Henrikh Mkhitaryan drawing a low save from Forster.
Southampton did not trouble Romero again until the brink of halftime, the former Sampdoria man fielding a powerful drive from Nathan Redmond.
But the United goalkeeper found himself in the firing line early in the second half as he was successively forced into action by a Dusan Tadic free-kick, a powerful Oriol Romeu strike and a curling effort from James Ward-Prowse.
United’s next opening sprang from an unfamiliar source, centre-back Chris Smalling haring down the right and crossing for Rooney, whose lay-off was curled over by Mata.
The visitors went even closer five minutes later, Martial driving infield from the left and arcing a shot against the right-hand post.
After Mata and Fellaini had departed, Southampton fashioned one last chance, but substitute Jay Rodriguez could do no better than shoot wide from the edge of the box.