Robin van Persie's stoppage-time header completed a memorable hat-trick to rescue Manchester United a victory over Southampton in a pulsating encounter.
Rickie Lambert headed Saints in front, before Van Persie produced a touch of class to volley United level.
But the hosts got themselves back in front with a header from Morgan Schneiderlin before Van Persie's dinked penalty was well saved by Kelvin Davis.
Van Persie's hat-trick 'relief'
United poured forward and the Netherlands striker looked to have rescued a point when he stabbed home a rebound.
But the former Arsenal captain was not satisfied and wrapped up all three points with a superb near-post header to ensure Sir Alex Ferguson was victorious in his 1,000th league match in charge of United.
For Saints it was a desperately disappointing end to what had been a cracking game in which they fully played their part.
But if this performance is anything to go by, Nigel Adkins' side will not have to wait too much longer for a first league victory.
Jonathan PearceBBC Match of the Day commentator
"Manchester United fans were left celebrating as if they had won the league. When Lambert went off in particular, the Manchester United centre backs found life more comfortable. Suddenly there was more space it seemed, with Scholes able to pick out his passes. But, what an extraordinary last half hour to the game for Robin van Persie."
In Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse they have two of the brightest young talents in the Premier League.
The Saints, who have conceded eight goals in their three league games, will have to sharpen up at the back, though.
At the other end of the table, if Van Persie - who now has 100 Premier League goals - can continue his form for the majority of this season, Ferguson has every chance of securing United their 20th top-flight title.
The Dutchman was a menace throughout and showed his class with three expertly taken goals.
The occasion seemed to get the better of the hosts in the opening exchanges and in the sixth minute Van Persie fired a volley just wide.
But after a bright start from United, it was the Saints who took the lead when Lambert outjumped Rafael at the back post to head home his second of the season.
United were soon on level terms though, when
£24m signing Van Persie
fired home a half volley at the back post after a fine cross from Antonio Valencia.
Shinji Kagawa went close for United either side of half-time while Van Persie side-footed wide when unmarked in the area.
Ferguson credits Scholes for win
Saints were looking lively on the break and it came as no real surprise when Schneiderlin headed them back in front from Lambert's cross, taking advantage of Patrice Evra's slip to beat Anders Lindegaard from close range.
United introduced Paul Scholes and the veteran midfielder immediately created a chance for Van Persie, who fired straight at Davis from a tight angle.
Ferguson's men should have been level moments later after Jos Hooiveld scythed down Van Persie in the box.
But the forward could only watch in horror as the Saints keeper flung himself to his right and, at full stretch, managed to palm the chipped penalty around the post.
Van Persie, though, was not to be denied and his late brace was enough to give Ferguson victory in his landmark match.
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins:
"For a newly-promoted club we have scored two goals in open play against a Manchester United side packed full of experience. [Rickie] Lambert had an exceptional game, Jason Puncheon had a superb game, as did Adam Lallana.
"I thought they had worked very hard and we made the substitutions to bring more energy into the side. [But] you get punished at the highest level."
Goal - Robin van Persie - Southamp'n 2 - 3 Man Utd A goal is scored by Robin van Persie from inside the penalty box to the top right corner of the goal. Southampton 2-3 Man Utd.
Luis Nani takes the inswinging corner,
Jay Rodriguez takes a shot. James Ward-Prowse takes a corner. Corner from the right by-line taken by Daniel Fox, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance. James Ward-Prowse takes a shot. Rio Ferdinand gets a block in. Shot by Daniel Fox from outside the box goes high over the crossbar. Blocked by Nemanja Vidic. Shot from just outside the box by Javier Hernandez misses to the left of the goal.
Emmanuel Mayuka fouled by Michael Carrick, the ref awards a free kick. Daniel Fox takes the free kick.
Assist on the goal came from Rio Ferdinand.
86:53 Goal scored
Goal - Robin van Persie - Southamp'n 2 - 2 Man Utd Robin van Persie finds the back of the net with a goal from close in to the bottom left corner of the goal. Southampton 2-2 Man Utd.
Header by Rio Ferdinand from inside the area strikes the post.
Corner taken right-footed by Luis Nani, Guly Do Prado manages to make a clearance.
Effort on goal by Javier Hernandez from inside the penalty box misses to the right of the target.
The official flags Robin van Persie offside. Free kick taken by Kelvin Davis.
The ball is swung over by Luis Nani, clearance by Steven Davis. Inswinging corner taken by Luis Nani. Free kick awarded for a foul by Rafael Da Silva on Jay Rodriguez. Kelvin Davis takes the free kick.
The referee blows for offside against Antonio Valencia. Kelvin Davis restarts play with the free kick.
Foul by Emmanuel Mayuka on Rio Ferdinand, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
Substitution Jay Rodriguez is brought on as a substitute for Adam Lallana.
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Morgan Schneiderlin gets a block in.
Antonio Valencia produces a cross, Jos Hooiveld manages to make a clearance.
Patrice Evra crosses the ball, clearance made by Jos Hooiveld.
The ball is crossed by Antonio Valencia, clearance made by Morgan Schneiderlin.
Substitution (Southampton) makes a substitution, with Guly Do Prado coming on for Rickie Lambert.
Substitution Emmanuel Mayuka on for Jason Puncheon.
The ball is swung over by Antonio Valencia, blocked by Steven Davis.
Substitution Javier Hernandez replaces Danny Welbeck.
Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the right of the goal.
Booking Caution for Jos Hooiveld.
Corner taken short by Patrice Evra. Nemanja Vidic takes a shot. Blocked by Jos Hooiveld. Short corner taken by Luis Nani.
Penalty taken by Robin van Persie saved by Kelvin Davis. Southampton 2-1 Man Utd.
Jos Hooiveld concedes a Penalty for a foul on Robin van Persie.
Adam Lallana is caught offside. Anders Lindegaard restarts play with the free kick.
Adam Lallana takes a shot. Blocked by Rio Ferdinand.
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Save made by Kelvin Davis.
Substitution Luis Nani replaces Shinji Kagawa.
Substitution Tom Cleverley leaves the field to be replaced by Paul Scholes.
Effort from close range by Jason Puncheon goes wide left of the target.
Adam Lallana takes a shot. Save made by Anders Lindegaard.
Morgan Schneiderlin delivers the ball, clearance made by Rafael Da Silva.
Jason Puncheon takes a shot. Save by Anders Lindegaard. Inswinging corner taken by Daniel Fox, Anders Lindegaard makes a save.
Antonio Valencia crosses the ball, clearance made by Jose Fonte.
Assist on the goal came from Rickie Lambert.
54:58 Goal scored
Goal - Morgan Schneiderlin - Southamp'n 2 - 1 Man Utd Morgan Schneiderlin scores a headed goal from deep inside the penalty box. Southampton 2-1 Man Utd.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Rickie Lambert on Rio Ferdinand. Michael Carrick restarts play with the free kick.
Centre by Antonio Valencia, Effort from the edge of the box by Robin van Persie goes wide of the left-hand post.
A cross is delivered by Patrice Evra, James Ward-Prowse manages to make a clearance.
The ball is delivered by Daniel Fox.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Rickie Lambert by Nemanja Vidic. Direct free kick taken by Morgan Schneiderlin.
Jason Puncheon takes a shot. Blocked by Patrice Evra.
Jason Puncheon produces a cross, clearance by Rio Ferdinand.
Shot from just outside the box by Shinji Kagawa misses to the right of the goal.
Nemanja Vidic fouled by Rickie Lambert, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Nemanja Vidic.
The referee blows his whistle to start the second half.
45:00 +1:12 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to end the first period.
Patrice Evra takes a shot. Save made by Kelvin Davis.
Antonio Valencia produces a cross, Daniel Fox gets a block in.
Tom Cleverley fouled by Adam Lallana, the ref awards a free kick. Michael Carrick restarts play with the free kick.
Unfair challenge on Rickie Lambert by Nemanja Vidic results in a free kick. Morgan Schneiderlin takes the free kick.
Adam Lallana produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that goes wide left of the target.
Effort from outside the penalty box by James Ward-Prowse goes wide right of the goal.
The ball is crossed by Adam Lallana.
Foul by Jose Fonte on Danny Welbeck, free kick awarded. Robin van Persie fires a strike on goal direct from the free kick.
Robin van Persie produces a left-footed shot from just outside the penalty box that misses to the left of the target.
Rickie Lambert produces a left-footed shot from just outside the box that goes wide right of the target.
Adam Lallana crosses the ball, clearance by Rio Ferdinand.
The assist for the goal came from Antonio Valencia.
22:43 Goal scored
Goal - Robin van Persie - Southamp'n 1 - 1 Man Utd Robin van Persie scores a goal from the edge of the penalty box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Southampton 1-1 Man Utd.
A cross is delivered by Patrice Evra, save by Kelvin Davis.
Shinji Kagawa takes a shot. Kelvin Davis makes a save. Tom Cleverley takes a inswinging corner.
The assist for the goal came from Jason Puncheon.
15:43 Goal scored
Goal - Rickie Lambert - Southamp'n 1 - 0 Man Utd Rickie Lambert finds the back of the net with a headed goal from deep inside the penalty area. Southampton 1-0 Man Utd.
Morgan Schneiderlin has an effort at goal from outside the penalty box which goes wide left of the goal.
The ball is delivered by Nathaniel Clyne, blocked by Patrice Evra. Daniel Fox takes the inswinging corner, Adam Lallana produces a right-footed shot from deep inside the area which goes wide of the left-hand post.
Jason Puncheon concedes a free kick for a foul on Danny Welbeck. Michael Carrick restarts play with the free kick.
Daniel Fox delivers the ball.
A cross is delivered by Jason Puncheon.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Morgan Schneiderlin on Robin van Persie. Direct free kick taken by Tom Cleverley.
Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the right of the target.
Rafael Da Silva fouled by Daniel Fox, the ref awards a free kick. The free kick is delivered left-footed by Robin van Persie from right wing. Rafael Da Silva takes a shot. Blocked by Nathaniel Clyne.
Antonio Valencia delivers the ball, blocked by Daniel Fox. Corner taken by Robin van Persie played to the near post, Morgan Schneiderlin makes a clearance.
The referee gets the game underway.
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