Saints were robbed of their first points of the season by two late strikes from Robin Van Persie.
Another exhilarating performance from Nigel Adkins’ side saw them push United all the way in Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1000th league game in charge of the Red Devils, but the finishing from Van Persie got the visitors out of jail at St Mary’s.
The hosts again put in a performance that was more than worthy of all three points and having twice taken the lead in the game, it looked as though Saints would earn their first points of the season.
Headers apiece from Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin – who celebrated his first ever home goal – gave Adkins’ men a lead they seemed capable of holding, but Van Persie completed his treble in the 87th and 90th minute to consign Saints to a third consecutive defeat at the start of the campaign: the first time that’s happened in eleven years.
Saints: K. Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox, Ward-Prowse, Schneiderlin, S. Davis, Puncheon (Mayuka 73), Lallana (Rodriguez 79), Lambert (Guly 73). Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Lee, Richardson, Seaborne
Man Utd: Lindegaard, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic (c), Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley (Scholes 60), Kagawa (Nani 60), Welbeck (Chicharito 70), Van Persie. Subs (not used): De Gea, Evans, Giggs, Powell.
Referee: Mike Dean
James Ward-Prowse and Jason Puncheon returned to the starting line up with Jay Rodriguez and Guly dropping to the bench in the changes from the last league game against Wigan.
St Mary’s was a cauldron of noise as the teams took the pitch, as the electric atmosphere set the tone for the afternoon.
It was visitors United in white shirts and black shorts who got the game underway, attacking the Chapel Stand on a dull but mild day by the south coast.
Saints worked hard to quell the initial threat from Alex Ferguson’s men in the opening exchanges, with United’s front line of Kagawa, Welbeck, and Van Persie looking lively early on, but unable to seriously test Kelvin Davis.
United were less convincing at the other end though, with back-up ‘keeper Anders Lindegaard more than a little shaky with his initial touches, whilst the four players in front of him did little to ease his nerves as Puncheon and Lallana broke forward and caused them problems.
Adkins’ side won a corner in the 13th minute when Michael Carrick’s heavy touch gave Saints an opportunity from a set piece. The delivery was struck hard and low by Fox, and dummied by Fonte, but Lallana was unfortunately off balance as he tried to turn the ball home.
The hosts grew into the contest with Lallana continuing to make things happen, and he set up Schneiderlin for a long range strike which flew over.
That was to prove as a warning sign with Saints making their pressure count on the quarter hour mark. Another sweeping move from left to right found its way to Puncheon whose delivery to the far post was crashed into the far corner of the net by LAMBERT as the stadium erupted for 1-0.
Understandably buoyed by the strike, Saints were now the side dictating the play, so much so that it was a surprise when Shinji Kagawa found the space to test Davis with a low strike from the edge of the area.
United though eventually hit back on 23 minutes with an equaliser of the highest quality from Robin VAN PERSIE who latched on to a cross at the far post to control the ball before firing across to Davis into the bottom right corner.
Unruffled by the leveller Saints went back on the attack and almost retook the lead when Lambert again broke free, but his curling strike arched just wide of Lindegaard’s right post.
At the other end Van Persie smashed over from range before Welbeck drew a foul from Fonte which gave the visitors an opportunity to strike at goal. Van Persie’s chipped effort however, was off target.
As play reached half an hour, Saints went in search of another strike, with Lallana turning the United defence in circles, prior to Puncheon laying the ball towards Ward-Prowse, whose daisy-cutter of a strike flew inches wide of the post.
Prolonged spells of possession from both sides sandwiched an opportunity for Patrice Evra to give United the lead after Nathaniel Clyne had slipped for a second time at the far post, but Dabis was equal to the full back’s effort at his near post.
With the score level at the interval, Saints could take heart from a spirited opening 45 minute display where they more than a match for the Red Devils, who looked vulnerable in key areas.
Half Time: Saints 1-1 Manchester United
There were no changes from either side at the break as Steven Davis and Lambert got the second 45 started.
The match picked up from where it left off, with the action swinging from end to end.
Lambert went close for the home side before Kagawa went perilously close to putting United in front with a dipping strike from the edge of the area that trickled just inches wide of the right post.
Saints were almost caught out in a comfortable spell for Adkins’ side when Antonio Valencia intercepted a short pass from Davis to Fox, but Van Persie was unable to put away the cross.
And the hosts made the former champions pay for that miss on 55 when the arrival of an all too long awaited first ever home goal for Morgan SCHNEIDERLIN, who nodded home Lambert’s cross to the far post to restore Saints’ lead.
That was the signal for more pressure from the home side who aimed to kill off their opponents as they broke forward impressively prior to a double substitution which saw both Tom Cleverley and Kagawa replaced by Paul Scholes and Nani respectively.
Scholes immediately threaded Van Persie through on goal, but Kelvin Davis was more than equal to the Dutchman’s strike.
But Saints remained on top, and were almost rewarded for their dominance when Lambert played Lallana into the area, but the captain was thwarted by Evra in the nick of time.
The hosts went close again when Lambert sprang the offside trap and squared the ball towards Ward-Prowse, but Ferdinand did enough to intercept the danger.
The match almost outrageously turned on an extremely harsh penalty decision against Hooiveld on 68 minutes. The defender won the ball cleanly from Van Persie, but Mike Dean thought it right to award the spot kick.
But as at Manchester City in the opening game of the season, Kelvin Davis was the hero as his fingertips pushed Van Persie’s effort onto the post and out of play for a slice of justice.
United made one last roll of the dice on 70 minutes when Welbeck was replaced by Chicharito, the man who dumped Saints out of the FA Cup in 2011.
Saints handed a debut to Emmanuel Mayuka on 73 who replaced Puncheon, whilst Guly came on for Lambert at the same time to freshen up the attack.
Inside the last quarter of an hour the hard-working Lallana was brought off in favour of Jay Rodriguez, with Saints now boasting the freshest legs in the final third of the field.
Having been in this position at the Etihad Stadium, Saints were keen to see out the last ten minutes of action with their first points of the season in sight.
There was to be late twist though with United finding their second equaliser of the game in the 87th minute. Rio Ferdinand’s header from a corner rebounded up off the post and kindly into the path of VAN PERSIE who celebrated his second goal of the game.
Saints attempted to hit back again with Rodriguez’s sharp shot from distance bouncing off Ferdinand and out for a corner which Hooiveld went close to converting with a header, but VAN PERSIE was to complete his hat-trick at the start of stoppage time when he launched a looping header into the far side from Evra’s corner.
The late goal was a sickener for the hosts who threw everything at United with Hooiveld going up front to try and salvage something from the game, but once again, a heroic display went unrewarded.
Full Time: Saints 2-3 Manchester United