Manchester United grabbed a vital three points against Southampton at Old Trafford by beating the Saints 2-1. Wayne Rooney scored two as United had to sweat out the second half to secure a seven point lead at the top of the table.
Any ideas that United may have had that Southampton would be an easy walk-over were quickly dashed as the Saints set out to really test the Red Devils and make them work hard for the win. After firing their successful manager Nigel Adkins, Southampton appointed Spanish coach Mauricio Pochettino and the new boss made it clear from the start that his side would not be bullied by the occasion or by Old Trafford's atmosphere.
In a sight all too familiar to United fans this season, the Red Devils conceded yet another early goal although this particular one was perhaps the softest one given up yet. In a bizarre move to provide David de Gea with a back-pass, Michael Carrick lofted the ball way short of his goalkeeper and the ball was seized upon by Jay Rodriguez. De Gea then attempted to block his effort which he completely misread and Rodriguez simply put the ball under the keeper and then slotted home the easiest goal he will ever score. This time, although de Gea could have played the ball much better, it was not the goalkeeper's fault completely. Carrick made an uncharacteristic error that cost United an early goal on yet another occasion.
United, finding themselves behind early rallied and few at Old Trafford would have believed that Southampton could keep United out for 87 minutes. In only the eighth minute, Rooney latched onto a fantastic ball from Shinji Kagawa and finished a well taken shot past Saints goalkeeper Artur Boruc. 1-1 and the momentum was clearly with United as they continued to look to take the lead. Rooney would eventually score his second in the 27th minute when a dangerous free-kick floated in from Robin van Persie found Patrice Evra's head and the defender headed across to Rooney who tapped in from close range. United were in front but this did not deter Southampton from trying to tie the game back up themselves as they began to press United on the ball and create opportunities. United would have been glad to hear the halftime whistle which saw them hold onto their slender lead.
Southampton began the second half on a mission and did not let up on the gas pedal for the rest of the match. United did not come out in the second half to attack or add to their scoreline, but defended resolutely, a strange move considering this did not work against Tottenham a week ago. United faced a Saints bombardment and Southampon were unlucky on a few occasions not have scored. One particular chance also saw de Gea redeem himself some when Rickie Lambert took a fantastic free-kick that de Gea saved beautifully. It was Southampton's best chance and de Gea rescued a certain goal. Sir Alex Ferguson clearly concerned with the defense, put in Rio Ferdinand and Rafael (who were originally rested) to make sure Southampton did not grab a late equalizer. Boruc would pop up with a great save a little later when van Persie looked to have scored his 19th goal with a nice header but Boruc threw his hands up and blocked a certain goal. Van Persie would score a header shortly after this but it was disallowed for offsides.
United were lucky to walk away with all three points and Southampton perhaps unlucky not to have got at least one but if the Saints continue to play the way they did against United, they will not be losing too many matches for the remainder of the season. United move seven points clear at the top of the table due to Manchester City's 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers 24 hours earlier.
Man of the Match: Nemanja Vidic. Rooney had a great first half but Vidic made sure the three points were going United's way by completely dominating the penalty box and denying Southampton at every turn. The old saying goes that defenses win championships and Vidic is a testament to that.
Manchester United: David de Gea; Patrice Evra, Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling (Rio Ferdinand); Anderson (Rafael), Michael Carrick, Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa (Nani); Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie
Southampton: Artur Boruc; Nathaniel Clyne, Maya Yoshida, Morgan Schneiderlin, Daniel Fox (Luke Shaw); Jos Hooiveld, Gaston Ramirez (Adam Lallana), Jack Cork, Jason Puncheon (Steven Davis); Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez
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