By Dwaine Quashie
The first trophy of the season went to Manchester United, but it could have easily been Southampton’s day at Wembley in the EFL Cup Final.
There was an overriding feeling of fortune favouring Jose Mourinho’s men as they ran out 3-2 winners, thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 87th-minute header.
Southampton started the better team and had an early goal by Manolo Gabbiadini ruled offside, which it shouldn’t have been.
United made the most of their reprieve, going 1-0 up on 19 minutes through a well struck Ibrahimovic free-kick. Arguably, Saints keeper Fraser Forster should have done better as it wasn’t completely out of his reach.
Seven minutes before the break, Jesse Lingard made it 2-0 with a smart finish that gave Forster no chance.
Saints down but not out
United looked to be cruising to a fourth League Cup win for Mourinho. But, to their credit, Southampton remained a threat.
Their pressure through the jinky runs of Nathan Redmond and dangerous presence of Gabbiadini finally paid off as the Italian striker tapped in at the near post from a low cross by James Ward-Prowse.
The goal on the stroke of half-time changed the game’s complexion and set up an intriguing second period.
A tactical switch by Mourinho saw Juan Mata replaced by Michael Carrick, so £89m man Paul Pogba could play further forward.
Saints continued to press, however, and their persistence soon paid off when a corner was only half cleared.
Steven Davis kept the ball alive, and it fell to Gabbiadini on 48 minutes. He swivelled and volleyed a left-footed strike which left United keeper David De Gea floundering.
Heartbreak for Saints
It was game on, and Mourinho looked to have run out of ideas. He was left praying for one of his big names to produce something special, and eventually got his wish.
From defending a corner kick, Ibrahimovic headed the ball out and continued his run.
The ball broke to him and United were on a rare second-half counter-attack.
At 35, the Swede is no longer one of the quickest and couldn’t manage to shake off the pursuing defenders, but held play up as reinforcements arrived.
With three minutes left, he headed home Ander Herrera’s cross, delivering the silverware to United and heartbreak for Southampton.