Match ends, Southampton 1, Manchester United 2.
Southampton 1-2 Manchester United
- Man Utd up to third for first time since August 2013
- United make two early substitutions
- Visitors score two of their three shots
- Southampton lose third successive game
Manchester United moved to third in the Premier League after Robin van Persie's brace gave them victory over an often-superior Southampton at St Mary's.
United took an early lead as Van Persie pounced on Jose Fonte's slack backpass, but Graziano Pelle swept in a deserved equaliser as the Saints fought back.
Southampton had plenty of chances, but Van Persie guided in Wayne Rooney's deep free-kick for the decisive goal.
David De Gea turned away a low Pelle shot as Southampton ran out of steam.
United's fifth successive Premier League win came despite registering only three shots at goal to Southampton's 15 as the visitors' occasionally shambolic defensive performance cast further doubt over their solidity at the other end.
But the mere fact of the club's return to the top three for the first time since August 2013 will raise hopes they can remain there until the end of the season - the bare minimum requested by chief executive Ed Woodward this summer.
United's fans ended the match singing Van Persie's name and it was the Dutchman who capitalised on Fonte's early error to give their side the lead.
The Southampton skipper's attempt to play the ball back to goalkeeper Fraser Forster was risky, but Van Persie's anticipation and deft finish through the goalkeeper's legs skilfully extracted full punishment.
Southampton had threatened through Shane Long, and an early muscle injury suffered by Chris Smalling fuelled their belief, as well as adding to United's injury list.
Jonny Evans was ushered on for his first appearance since September's 5-3 defeat by Leicester, but his introduction only spread uncertainty through United's three-man defence.
Southampton found gaps between the Northern Ireland international, Paddy McNair and Marcos Rojo with Sadio Mane's weaving run only ended by a last-ditch challenge and Dusan Tadic over-hitting a simple through ball to Long.
The seemingly inevitable equaliser arrived shortly after though. A mob of United players failed to clear a cross, Tadic's shot fell invitingly to the feet of Pelle and the Italy international swept home to end a run of five games without a goal.
|Make it count|
|Manchester United had six touches in the opposition box over the 90 minutes, 26 fewer than Southampton.|
United manager Louis van Gaal reacted by switching personnel rather than system - taking off McNair, bringing on Ander Herrera and moving Michael Carrick into defence - but the flow of the game stayed the same with Southampton piling pressure on a vulnerable United as the half came to an end.
Saints boss Ronald Koeman, whose relationship with Van Gaal soured after a falling out while colleagues on Ajax's technical staff in 2004, saw his side continue to turn the screw in the second half.
Long could only direct a header into De Gea's midriff when unmarked at the far post before Pelle strolled in behind Carrick but lifted a shot over the bar.
But thanks to another piece of opportunism from Van Persie, Van Gaal shook hands with Koeman as an unlikely victor.
Wayne Rooney's deep free-kick could have been claimed by Forster, but as the goalkeeper stayed rooted to his line Van Persie stretched to guide home a volley with the outside of his foot.
The goal was a body blow to Southampton, and while Pelle and Nathaniel Clyne threatened from distance, the Saints could not recover their attacking rhythm.
Instead they were fortunate to remain with 11 men on the pitch as Fonte and Mane escaped red cards following heavy challenges on Herrera and Van Persie.
- 6José FonteBooked at 90mins
- 7LongSubstituted forMayukaat 79'minutes
- 11TadicSubstituted forHeskethat 70'minutes
- 10ManéBooked at 89mins
- 1de Gea
- 12SmallingSubstituted forEvansat 18'minutes
- 33McNairSubstituted forHerreraat 39'minutes
- 25A Valencia
- 8MataSubstituted forFletcherat 89'minutes
- 20van Persie
- 10RooneyBooked at 90mins
- Kevin Friend
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Southampton 1, Manchester United 2.
Jose Fonte (Southampton) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Jose Fonte (Southampton).
Ander Herrera (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card.
Sadio Mané (Southampton) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Sadio Mané (Southampton).
Robin van Persie (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Substitution, Manchester United. Darren Fletcher replaces Juan Mata.
Offside, Southampton. Maya Yoshida tries a through ball, but Graziano Pellè is caught offside.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Antonio Valencia.
Attempt blocked. Ryan Bertrand (Southampton) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Graziano Pellè.
Attempt missed. Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Steven Davis following a corner.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Jonny Evans.
Hand ball by Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United).
Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).
Foul by Jonny Evans (Manchester United).
Steven Davis (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Maya Yoshida (Southampton).
Robin van Persie (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Southampton. Emmanuel Mayuka replaces Shane Long.
Attempt missed. Steven Davis (Southampton) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the right following a corner.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by David de Gea.
Attempt saved. Graziano Pellè (Southampton) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Sadio Mané.
Goal! Southampton 1, Manchester United 2. Robin van Persie (Manchester United) left footed shot from the right side of the six yard box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Wayne Rooney with a cross following a set piece situation.
Substitution, Southampton. Jake Hesketh replaces Dusan Tadic.
Ashley Young (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton).
Juan Mata (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Victor Wanyama (Southampton).
Graziano Pellè (Southampton) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Antonio Valencia (Manchester United).
Attempt missed. Graziano Pellè (Southampton) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Ryan Bertrand with a cross.
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Jose Fonte.
Attempt missed. Graziano Pellè (Southampton) left footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Dusan Tadic.
Attempt blocked. Graziano Pellè (Southampton) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Dusan Tadic with a cross.
Foul by Dusan Tadic (Southampton).
Jonny Evans (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.