Man U had a chance to jump into fifth place with a win. The guys blew it big time. The Daily Mail: “Zlatan Ibrahimovic is always centre-stage.
A week ago at Wembley, he was the cup final goalscoring hero. On Saturday at Old Trafford, we saw the other side of the Swedish Jekyll and Hyde, guilty of a crucial penalty miss and lucky to still be on the field after a nasty-looking elbow into the side of the head of Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings.
It wasn’t the finest afternoon for Zlatan or Manchester United as they unexpectedly dropped two costly points in their drive to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.
United quickly closed ranks behind their 26-goal talisman, suggesting an ugly challenge perpetrated by Mings moments earlier — treading on Zlatan’s ear as he failed to vault over him — was even worse and almost a legitimate reason for any retaliation.
‘To try and stamp on a player’s head is wrong,’ said Wayne Rooney, who was on television within minutes of the final whistle encouraging the FA to throw the book at the Bournemouth player.
Jose Mourinho, more savvy, knows a ban for Mings will almost certainly mean a similar ban for his superstar forward and would prefer the whole thing is quickly forgotten on both sides.
‘Zlatan is a big man like I am. We are not the kind of generation that cries about what happens. We are the generation of street football,’ said the United manager.
Even so, the 35-year-old thought it prudent to defend his innocence with a potential charge and three-match suspension looming.
‘You can see the images. I jump high and he [Mings] jumps into my elbow,’ he said. Mings begged to differ. ‘There was an elbow — I didn’t see it but I felt it,’ he said.
It was high drama out of keeping with the boredom that lunchtime kick-offs often produce.
As a result, United stayed sixth – poor reward for a 17-match unbeaten run in the league – while Bournemouth celebrated a priceless point in their battle to stay in the division, an even greater achievement because they played the entire second half with 10 men following the dismissal of Andrew Surman.
Manager Eddie Howe should have been in his sick bed instead of urging his team on from the touchline, while assistant Jason Tindall was sent to the stands for protesting Surman’s red card.
‘I’m sure the result will go some way to making Eddie feel better,’ said Tindall. ‘He was ill through the night and only arrived half an hour before the game. He was advised to stay in the hotel and sleep.’
United began like a train with Mourinho giving starts to Rooney and Luke Shaw. Rooney, Paul Pogba and Ibrahimovic missed chances in the first 20 minutes when United led the shot count 11-0.
The inevitable arrived after 23 minutes albeit from an unlikely source when Chilean defender Marcos Rojo deftly diverted in Antonio Valencia’s cross-shot for only his second goal in United colours.
That should have been the springboard for a comfortable home win but the old certainty about United disappeared when Sir Alex Ferguson left, as witnessed by home draws against Hull, Stoke and Burnley this season.
After 40 minutes their weak link, Phil Jones, returning from hamstring trouble, needlessly ploughed into Marc Pugh and ex-United trainee Josh King lashed home the penalty into the roof of the net.
If Jones was struggling, poor refereeing from Kevin Friend was about to turn into a complete nightmare just before half-time.
First he missed the studs of Mings landing on Ibrahimovic’s ear — pundits Gary Neville and Thierry Henry thought deliberately.
Coincidence or not, from the following corner the Swede steamed into the Bournemouth defender and left him poleaxed.
The striker had already been booked for dissent and he and Rooney bent Mr Friend’s ear not to inflict further punishment, which worked.
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher felt the official ‘bottled it’.
Bournemouth’s outrage was increased when Surman was sent off in the incident. Surman had been harshly booked earlier for a challenge on Shaw and, in the aftermath of Mings v Ibrahimovic, he pushed the Swede to get a second booking. Mr Friend issued the card without realising it meant a dismissal, though he corrected his mistake in the time Mings recovered.
‘There was some communication between the officials,’ said Tindall.
A man short, the visitors abandoned their footballing principles to try and grind out a draw. They managed it, with Pogba denied by Artur Boruc and then airkicking in front of goal. Mourinho made a triple change with 20 minutes to go but was left cursing when Adam Smith handled Pogba’s cutback and Ibrahimovic’s low penalty was brilliantly stopped by Boruc.
‘They parked the bus but I am not critical,’ said Mourinho. ‘We haven’t been practising penalties because we haven’t been awarded one for four months.’
Deep down, he will be as worried about the prospect of losing Ibrahimovic for three domestic games as the points dropped.