Saints remain pointless after three games, having lost 3-2 to Manchester United in heart-breaking circumstances at St Marys. Nigel Adkins' men had matched the visitors for much of the contest, but were undone by Robin Van Persie in the closing stages.
Adkins lined up with a 4-3-2-1 formation. The defence remained the same, with Morgan Schneiderlin anchoring midfield from kick-off. The Frenchman was given licence to go forward at times too, with James Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis taking it in turns to sit back and push on. Adam Lallana was back on the left, with Jay Rodriguez dropping to the bench. Jason Puncheon replaced Guly Do Prado on the right, with Rickie Lambert starting as the lone front man.
United dominated the first 10 minutes or so, controlling possession without really troubling Kelvin Davis. Saints sat back congesting the play whenever United got within shooting distance. Rickie Lambert remained forward throughout, but the rest of the team got themselves behind the ball when the Red Devils were in possession. Robin Van Persie looked sharp, and had an early effort go wide.
Saints grew into the game after that slow start, and more than matched their opponents in terms of quality of passing. The hosts stroked the ball about on the floor to good effect, but also went long on occasions, utilising the aerial prowess of Rickie Lambert. Rio Ferdinand seemed flustered by Lambert at times. The Southampton number seven opened the scoring against the Manchester giants. Schneiderlin intercepted a Tom Cleverley pass before squaring the ball to Steven Davis. Davis played the ball out wide to Puncheon, who crossed the ball to the back post for Lambert to head in.
Saints were lifted by the goal, and entertained the sell-out St Marys crowd with a great exhibition of football. Some of the passing sequences were superb. United were well below their best for much of the first half, but still looked dangerous in front of goal. Robin Van Persie levelled the game on 22 minutes, taking advantage of a slip from Clyne, before chesting the ball down and firing home.
The game remained very open throughout the rest of the first half, with both sides pushing forward, making for an exciting contest. The two teams looked slightly vulnerable at full-back. Nathaniel Clyne suffered a few more slip ups, but generally did well. Fox was given the run-around, although Antonio Valencia was surprisingly reluctant to take him on too many times. Saints exuded a great deal of energy in the first half, pressing with great intensity.
The breathless action continued after the break. Both sides had early efforts on goal, with Lambert and Shinji Kagawa going close. Saints regained the lead on 55 minutes when Schneiderlin headed in Lambert's cross. The Frenchman made a perfectly timed run into the box, nodding past Anders Lindegaard for his first ever goal at St Marys. By this point the ground was buzzing with excitement. United cranked up the pressure, but Saints also had chances to add to the scoring. Lambert brilliantly sprung the offside trap, but then had his weak cross cut out by Ferdinand, who intercepted the ball before the onrushing Ward-Prowse.
On 60 minutes Sir Alex Ferguson made a double substitution that would alter the course of the game. On came Paul Scholes and Nani for Kagawa and Cleverley. Just as he had done in the FA Cup tie back in January 2011, Scholes took control of the football, and allowed United to regain the momentum. He and Michael Carrick sprayed the ball about brilliantly, and for a while, Saints held firm. United had a golden opportunity to equalise when Jos Hooiveld gave away a penalty, with a rash challenge on Van Persie. The Dutchman had the resulting spot-kick saved by Kelvin Davis, who had landed Saints in trouble seconds earlier with a weak clearance.
The three changes Adkins made at Manchester City all made a positive differences. Unfortunately that wasn't the case here. Saints lost both momentum and shape after Lambert, Puncheon and Lallana were withdrawn. No doubt some will point the finger at Adkins, and hindsight is a wonderful thing. All three players had run themselves into the ground however, so it made sense to bring in some fresh faces. Who's to say whether we would have held out or not had Adkins kept it the same?
United dominated possession as you would expect during the last 15 minutes, with Saints running out of steam. Adkins' men couldn't hold out for a famous win. On 87 minutes Ferdinand headed onto the post, with Van Persie knocking the ball in on the rebound. As disappointing as that goal was, a draw would have still seen home fans go home happy. United weren't finished however. They scored a stoppage time winner through Van Persie, who completed an impressive hatrick by heading in from Patrice Evra's corner.
Such a cruel ending. Saints played incredibly well for most of the game, but threw the points away right at the last. You couldn't have asked for much more in terms of effort, but Saints still need time to get to grips with Premier League football. Adkins' men used a great deal of energy early on, so the late drop off was inevitable. Once we adapt to the pace of the football we will get results. There are plenty of positives to take from the game. Attacking wise we looked devastating at times, with some sublime football. Schneiderlin was a class above, while Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis, Puncheon, Lallana and Lambert also proved that they are Premier League quality. The defence has come in for criticism, and while we certainly could have done better for the goal, it's worth noting that both Fonte and Hooiveld were excellent for large periods too. It's too early to write off these players already. We won't come up against the likes of Robin Van Persie every week, so as long as we keep up this of performance throughout the season we'll do just fine. With Jack Cork to come back and Gaston Ramirez and Maya Yoshida to come in, there is lots to look forward too.
Davis: 7. Distribution poor, and lead to the penalty. Redeemed himself somewhat with the spot-kick save. Also made some fine stops in the first half
Clyne: 7. Costly slip for the first goal, but otherwise fairly solid
Fonte: 7. Outstanding for most of the match. Timing largely impeccable. Only negative was that he was beaten to the ball for the third goal
Hooiveld: 7. Poor tackle for the penalty, but otherwise decent
Fox: 6. Worked hard, but looked vulnerable at times up against Valencia
Schneiderlin: 9. Outstanding all round performance. Set the tempo with superb distribution. Some important interceptions and a goal. Didn't deserve to be on the losing side
Ward-Prowse: 8. Did not look out of place at all. Tactically superb, always showing for the ball.
Davis: 8. Best showing in a Saints shirt to date. Strong both defensively and offensively
Puncheon: 8. Always looked dangerous going forward. Ran himself into the ground- gave Unitedís defence a torrid time
Lallana: 8. Some great skill in the final third. Made it look easy at times
Lambert: 8. A goal and assist. Looked a lot sharper than he did against Wigan. Any doubts of his Premier League capabilities have already been erased. Made things difficult for Rio Ferdinand and Nemaja Vidic.
Mayuka: 5. Didn't really see much of the ball, with United chasing for the last 15 minutes
Guly: 6. A few good defensive tackles and clearances
Rodriguez: Showed some good touches