A brace from Wayne Rooney saw Manchester United move seven points clear at the top of the Premier League table with a 2-1 win over Southampton at Old Trafford.
Nine of United's 19 league wins this season have now seen them come from behind, and the hosts added to their own task once more as Michael Carrick and David De Gea contrived to gift Jay Rodriguez and Southampton the lead in just the third minute in calamitous fashion.
It did not take long for Rooney and United to restore parity and then net what proved to be the winner, however, as the forward levelled in the eighth minute before adding a second just before the half-hour mark, but the hosts had to endure a nervy final period as Southampton produced an inspired second-half performance, albeit in vain.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have now dropped just two points in 13 Premier League home games against Southampton, and the victory saw them extend their lead over rivals Manchester City at the top of the table to seven points with Roberto Mancini's side having drawn at QPR on Tuesday.
Robin van Persie returned to the United starting line-up with Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa all included in an attacking line-up; Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, made two changes for his second match in charge with Rodriguez and Daniel Fox both recalled.
The match could hardly have started in a more chaotic fashion for the hosts as Carrick inexplicably stabbed the ball back towards De Gea in what represented a horrendous back pass, and the goalkeeper was beaten to the loose ball by Rodriguez, who kept his composure to nip past the Spaniard and turn the ball into an empty net.
It took just five minutes for United to draw level as Kagawa slid a precise ball in behind Jos Hooiveld, and Rooney raced in to produce a tidy finish as he slid the ball under Artur Boruc with the Southampton defence carved apart. It was United’s 26th goal in their previous 28 league games against Southampton.
Kagawa almost turned goalscorer two minutes later as he outstripped Nathaniel Clyne down the United left and proceeded to cut inside and fire a fierce strike against the near post with Boruc left entirely helpless in the Southampton goal.
A relentless barrage of pressure ensured that the visitors were constantly on the back foot, and United went in front in the 27th minute as Van Persie drifted a deep free-kick to the back post where Evra headed across the six-yard box, and Rooney was on hand to turn the ball in from all but a yard out. It was Rooney’s seventh goal in his last six league appearances, and his fifth in his last four games against the Saints.
Pochettino was clearly unhappy with the shape of his side in the first half, and he moved to replace the largely ineffectual Gaston Ramirez and Jason Puncheon with midfielders Steven Davis and Adam Lallana at the break.
De Gea almost committed another gaffe just after the hour mark as he spilled a speculative free-kick from Lambert, but the Spaniard just managed to recover and clear as two Southampton players converged on the ball, much to the home fans' relief.
Ferguson moved to shore up his defence moments after as he replaced Chris Smalling with Rio Ferdinand following a period of good possession from the visitors, and Rafael replaced Anderson shortly afterwards as United continued to lack the same fluency in the second half they showed in the first, and Pochettino’s changes spurred his side into action.
Van Persie was somehow denied a close-range header in front of goal as Boruc made an incredible reflex save down low to his right, and seconds later the Dutchman had a goal ruled out as again he headed from inside the six-yard box from Rooney’s cross, with the offside flag halting his celebrations abruptly.
In a frenetic few minutes, Lambert was half-celebrating as he struck a fine free-kick towards the corner of the net from 25 yards out, only for De Gea to redeem himself with an athletic save to his left to preserve United’s slender advantage. It was to be an anxious, and largely chaotic, end to the match from the league leaders.
Rooney had a late chance to bury the match and secure a hat-trick in the final moments, but he dallied in front of goal with just Boruc to beat, with a heavy touch enabling the keeper to smother the ball and save, while Southampton’s valiant efforts to force an equaliser in the final stages were successfully repelled by the hosts.
Southampton had not lost any of their last six Premier League matches coming into the encounter, but United put an end to that run as Ferguson’s side held on to move further clear at the top of the table.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney: The forward contributed to United’s play in a typical all-action performance, while finding the net twice with clinical finishes to decide the match.
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 5, Jones 6, Smalling 6, Vidic 7, Evra 7, Carrick 5, Anderson 6, Kagawa 7, Rooney 8, Welbeck 6, Van Persie 6. Subs: Rafael 6, Rio Ferdinand 6, Nani 6.
SOUTHAMPTON: Boruc 7, Clyne 7, Yoshida 7, Hooiveld 6, Fox 6, Puncheon 6, Cork 7, Schneiderlin 7, Ramirez 6, Lambert 7, Rodriguez 7. Subs: S. Davis 7, Lallana 7, Shaw 6.