Southampton fans once again don’t know what to expect from their team this season

19 August ~ For us Southampton fans, games with Manchester United conjure up images of Bobby Stokes scoring at Wembley; David Beckham and Ryan Giggs rendered powerless in grey jerseys at the Dell; and proving that win was no fluke by putting six past them the following season.

Wins at Old Trafford were thin on the ground until 2015, when Louis van Gaal got United passing sideways and we beat them 1-0 in successive seasons. These were significant milestones. Prior to this we had to go back 27 years to 1988 for our last league win away to Manchester United, when we won by two Colin Clarke goals to nil.

Can we win a third successive game at Old Trafford? The last two wins there had their own specific context; achieved in January, the mid-point of a campaign, when momentum had been gained, both came during six-game unbeaten streaks in the Premier League.

Today’s fixture, only the second of the season, on an unfamiliar Friday night slot, under Claude Puel, our new manager, who’s yet had chance to make his mark; well, what I’m getting at here is I don’t see how we come off the back off an inconclusive performance at home to Watford to beat United away.

Southampton fans will draw positives irrespective of the result if we see an organised and committed performance. If this sounds like the waving of the white flag then let me tell you what it’s like to be a Southampton fan, having to once again reassess our expectations and maybe even our marbles. This is caused by the discombobulating effect of being touted as outsiders for a Champions League slot then written off as cannon fodder twice within the space of three years.

Three of last season’s starting XI at Old Trafford – Graziano Pelle, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mané, have been sold; with preparations for this game marred by rumours of captain José Fonte moving to United. By chance I bumped into Fonte on Tuesday. With my arm firmly around his waist I leaned in for a selfie as his mobile began ringing. I joked if it was José Mourinho.

Fonte responded like all professionals confronted by a moron – with a thin smile that seemed to neither deny nor confirm my line of questioning. Fonte is an integral figure at the club. Captain and leader, he joined us in League One, and represents how far we’ve come since nearly going out of business in 2009.

The result of tonight’s game will draw a strong reaction from Saints fans. Win or avoid defeat and we will believe there is hope in looking to build on last year’s sixth-place finish. Lose without a fight and fans will demand the club reinvest money on new recruits and prove we are more than a well run feeder club. Mark Sanderson

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