Manchester United were forced to play the last few minutes of their clash against Southampton with 10 men.
And that disadvantage came back to haunt them when the visitors scored a last-gasp equaliser.
It was a hammer blow for a United side looking to jump into the top three. And it is even more frustrating when you consider they had only used four of their five permitted substitutes.
As reported by the Manchester Evening News, clubs can only make substitutions in up to three batches. United had already done that, with Fred (63), Williams (75), Dan James and Scott McTominay (both 84) coming on earlier.
That is the opposite of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s usual approach. After all, it has become the norm to see a whole batch of United stars gearing up for their second-half arrival.
United became the first side to ever make five subs in one go earlier this season. But last night’s match was a different prospect. This wasn’t a 3-0 cakewalk.
The game was on a knife-edge, with United 2-1 up and heading for the top three. Then came the horrible injury to Williams and his inevitable departure.
United had Eric Bailly ready to step in. However, the £30million signing (BBC) had to remain on the bench with time ticking down.
Another body on the field may have changed things for United; especially another defender. We will never know for sure, but it is a questionable decision on the part of the Premier League.
A flawed rule
On the one hand, it prevents clubs from the stop-start approach, destroying an opponent’s flow by halting games on five separate occasions. Yet there should be circumstances when a fourth-batch substitute is allowed.
The United left-back’s injury meant he was never going to continue. Head injuries are a different kettle of fish yet the hosts were penalised through no fault of their own.
Only time will tell how important those two dropped points would have been for United. We can only hope our season doesn’t tail off as a consequence.
United have the players to ensure three vital wins in the coming weeks. If that happens, last night’s match will be forgotten. But at least we have an explanation for something that would have had United fans scratching their heads last night.
Solskjaer would have brought on another player…if his hands weren’t tied.