SOUTHAMPTON 2, MAN UNITED 3.
New-boy Robin van Persie’s brilliant hat trick ensured Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,000th league game as manager of Manchester United was a winning one.
The Reds’ manager reached the landmark, which spans a remarkable 26 years at Old Trafford, came at St Mary’s where they snatched victory in stoppage time after a far from scintillating display.
Ferguson was indebted to the Dutchman who, with four goals already for United, is looking the steal of the transfer window, even at a cost of £24million.
While some of United’s van Persie inspired attacking play was excellent, it was an altogether different story defensively where their early-season frailties resurfaced as the newly-promoted Saints gave them an almighty fright.
Though van Persie won the plaudits, both he and Ferguson pinpointed Paul Scholes as his introduced as a second-half substitute helped transform United’s fortunes as they looked to be heading towards defeat.
“Scholes changed the game when he came on. He was my man of the match,” declared van Persie, a point endorsed by Ferguson.
“We didn’t start playing and weren’t going anywhere until Paul Scholes came on. His consistency and composure of passing made the difference,” he said.
United gave an outing in goal to Anders Lindegaard while Rio Ferdinand and Danny Welbeck returned as they looked for a fourth win from five visits to St Mary’s.
It was Saints who struck first, though, taking the lead in the 16th minute when Ricky Lambert climbed above Rafael da Silva to head the hosts in front.
United equalised midway through the opening period when Saints’ right back Nathaniel Clyne slipped when trying to clear a cross from Antonio Valencia.
Van Persie was lurking to seize on Clyne’s misfortune as he chested the ball down before powering home an unstoppable angled shot.
Lambert went close to regaining the lead for Saints as he shot narrowly wide while Welbeck was denied by an alert save from home keeper Kelvin Davies.
Japanese signing Kagawa and van Persie missed good chances for United early in the second half and they looked costly as Saints regained the lead when Morgan Schneiderlin rose to head home a cross from Jason Puncheon.
Van Persie remained a danger as he was released by Scholes only to see Davis divert his angled shot behind for a corner.
The Dutchman was then brought down by Joss Hooiveld who was relieved to see van Persie have an embarrassing miss with his spot kick. He tried a cheeky chip only for Davis to keep it out with his raised arm as he dived low to his right.
It looked like being a costly miss as Saints remained 2-1 ahead until the 87th minute when van Persie redeemed himself with the equaliser.
Rafael provided the cross, Ferdinand headed against the upright and van Persie, reacting sharply, rifled in the rebound.
Then in the second of four minutes of injury time, van Persie was on target again with a terrific header into the roof of the net from Nani’s corner.
“I was so relieved because when I missed the penalty I was gutted as I try to reach standards,” declared van Persie.