Manchester United's faltering pursuit of runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City hit another bump in the road on Saturday as they were held to a goalless draw by Southampton.
United welcomed Southampton to Old Trafford having failed to pick up a win from their previous two top-flight fixtures, drawing 2-2 at Leicester City before labouring to the same result at home to Burnley on Boxing Day.
The hosts lost Romelu Lukaku to a head injury after only eight minutes and, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic omitted from the squad by Jose Mourinho, introduced Marcus Rashford to lead the line.
But United failed to cause goalkeeper Alex McCarthy – in for the dropped Fraser Forster – any real problems, although they did have a goal disallowed late on after an offside Paul Pogba got a touch to a Nemanja Matic effort that could have snuck inside the post without his intervention.
United could now start the new year 17 points adrift of City if their fierce rivals extend their winning run to 19 matches at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
FT: 0 Southampton 0. A disappointing end to 2017 for the Reds as the game ends goalless. December 30, 2017
The home side had already lost second spot to Chelsea following a 5-0 win for Antonio Conte's side against Stoke City earlier in the day, while Southampton are now without a win in eight league matches, although they will be happy to take this point.
As Mourinho elected to leave Rashford and Anthony Martial on the bench and Ibrahiovic out entirely, Lukaku remained the focal point of the United attack and should have done better when he headed over from close range following a left-footed Juan Mata cross, before James Ward-Prowse drew a diving save from David De Gea with a low drive towards the bottom right-hand corner.
Lukaku's match lasted only eight minutes as a clash of heads with Wesley Hoedt forced Mourinho to introduce Rashford, with the Belgian striker receiving treatment on the pitch for several minutes before leaving the field on a stretcher, seemingly in some discomfort.
in first-half action for . December 30, 2017
Ward-Prowse was on target once more with from a 19th-minute free-kick – De Gea again equal to the effort – before McCarthy was called into action for the first time to keep out a Mata daisy-cutter.
Calls for a penalty against Maya Yoshida went unrewarded by referee Craig Pawson after the ball made contact with the Southampton defender's arm in the box, and Jesse Lingard sent a glancing header just wide of the target from a Henrikh Mkhitaryan cross as half-time approached.
Shane Long was denied by the outstretched leg of De Gea after stealing a march on Matic at the start of the second period, before Ashley Young curled a free-kick wide of the left-hand post.
Dusan Tadic headed over and then guided an effort wide as the Saints began to look most likely to make the breakthrough, but United managed to withstand their advances.
Matic's late strike looked to be heading for the left-hand upright when Pogba made the touch that saw the effort disallowed, although it could well have crept in had the France international left the ball alone.
But United will be left to wonder what might have been as their already slim title hopes faded further in their last action of 2017.
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