Saints narrowly lost out 2-1 to league leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford. Mauricio Pochettino's men gave United a real scare, particularly in the second half, and were unlucky not to come away with at least a point.
There was one major surprise in the starting line-up, with Danny Fox coming in for Luke Shaw at left-back. Jay Rodriguez took the place of the injured Guly Do Prado out wide. Saints couldn't have got off to a much better start, taking the lead after 2 minutes. Jay Rodriguez latched on to a weak backpass from Michael Carrick, before rounding David De Gea to slot into the back of the net. Predictably United came firing back, drawing level inside 8 minutes. Shinji Kagawa's beautifully chipped through ball, was picked up by Wayne Rooney, who outpaced the Southampton backline, before completing a simple finish past Artur Boruc. United were well on top for the majority of the first half, and had plenty of chances to kill the game off before the break. Saints played with a very high defensive line, which United looked to exploit, with Rooney regularly getting in behind the back four. The visitors played some decent stuff too, without really troubling De Gea too much. Saints' front line was very flexible, with players constantly switching positions. Rickie Lambert spent much of the game dropping very deep, leaving Saints without and out-an-out centre forward. Pochettino's men used the ball fairly well, attacking in numbers out wide. Gaston Ramirez and Jason Puncheon put full-backs Phil Jones and Patrice Evra under pressure. The momentum was still very much with United, however. Kagawa hit the post not long after the equaliser. On 21 Robin Van Persie's deflected strike bounced just over the bar. Five minutes later United were ahead. Van Persie's free kick was headed across goal by Evra at the back post for Rooney, who had a simple tap in. It was not the best piece of defending from a Saints perspective. Fox was beaten by Evra in the air, while Jos Hooiveld was caught ball-watching. Saints created a few half chances just before the break, winning a series of corners which came to nothing.
Pochettino made two important changes at half-time, with Steven Davis and Adam Lallana coming on for Ramirez and Puncheon. Davis' introduction was particularly crucial. It gave Saints a greater grip of the midfield. The away side pressed with greater vigour in the second half, never allowing United a moments rest. The Red Devils were clearly rattled. Saints dominated proceedings, spending much of the early part of the second half camped in United's half. The away side fired plenty of shots at goal, although many of them were speculative long-rangers. If there was one criticism that could be levelled at Saints, it would be that they were completely wasteful from set pieces. Pochettino's team had plenty of free-kicks and corners, but only a few came to anything. Lambert's free-kick was the best of the bunch. He tested De Gea in the 75th minute with a perfectly weighted strike. Sir Alex Ferguson was clearly concerned with Saints' approach, bringing on Rio Ferdinand, Rafael and Nani in an attempt to see out danger. The home side did grow stronger in the final 20 minutes and had a few chances to kill the game off. Rooney got in behind the defence again, only to see the ball scooped up by the onrushing Boruc. The Pole then made a fine save from Van Persie. United had the ball in the back of the net seconds later, only to see the goal ruled out for offside. Saints gave it everything until the last minute, but couldn't quite find a way past Nemanja Vidic and Ferdinand. In the end no points, but plenty of pride to take from a spirited performance.
A reasonable first half, followed by an excellent second. Very few teams come to Old Trafford and enjoy as much of the play as Saints did. Even Ferguson was forced to concede that we were the best side to play on that pitch this season. Saints disrupted the flow of United's game, and also looked good in possession. It's all very encouraging for Pochettino. There's been a noticeable difference in terms of pressing and intensity in the last two games. The shape is fairly similar, although perhaps the team is now slightly more adventurous than they were during the latter part of Nigel Adkins' reign. To some extent the pressure was off, with few expecting anything other than a heavy defeat. It'll be a completely different type of game on Saturday at Wigan, but if Saints can keep up that level of energy for 90 minutes then we'll be in with a decent shout. Puncheon, Ramirez, Lallana and Davis played 45 minutes each, while Shaw played less than 15, which means we'll have plenty of fresh legs for the trip to the DW.
Boruc: 8. Save from Van Persie in the second-half was absolutely outstanding. Defence looks a lot more confident now they know they have a keeper they can trust
Clyne: 8. A few minor errors in the first half, but overall pretty good defensively. Attacking runs caused United some problems in the second half
Yoshida: 8. Didn't do much wrong, positioning and timing very good
Hooiveld: 7. Partially at fault for the second goal, but overall performance pretty good considering the standard of opponent. Very strong in the air
Fox: 7. Misjudged a couple of situations defensively, but did improve as the game wore on. Made a number of good attacking runs down the left
Cork: 8. Always looking to receive the ball, particularly impressive in the second half
Schneiderlin: 8. Passing slightly below his very high standards early on, and a stupid booking for petulantly kicking the ball away, but otherwise excellent. Lost count of the number of times he won possession back
Puncheon: 6. Occasionally out of synch with some of his teammates going forward, but never neglected his defensive duties
Ramirez: 6. Didn't have that much of an impact on the ball, but worked hard off it
Rodriguez: 8. One of his best performances to date. Always looked a threat
Lambert: 7. Spent most of the game playing very deep. Link-up play very good, and a few decent efforts on goal
Davis: 8. Made a huge impact after coming on, giving Saints a greater foot-hold of the game. A fine box-to-box display
Lallana: 7. Obviously still a tad rusty, but a decent enough comeback. Brilliant first-touch, and a few glimpses of genius on the ball. Could be almost like a new signing once he's back to 100%
Shaw: Looked dangerous bombing down the left towards the end of the game