This was a day when the result did not match the performance for Southampton, as they were edged out 1-0 by Manchester United despite producing an intense and committed display at St Mary’s.
A second-half strike from Bruno Fernandes ultimately separated the teams, but there was little else between them, as Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men gave as good as they got against Erik ten Hag’s resurgent side.
Despite their efforts, though, they were unable to come from behind to secure a result for the third consecutive Premier League match, and were left to take only positives instead of points. Still, that should not detract from the fact there was much to be encouraged by, and on another day Saints could well have claimed a draw or more from the contest.
Hasenhüttl made one change from the side that started the previous Premier League game, at Leicester City, as the two-goal hero from that day, Ché Adams, took the place of Sékou Mara in the line-up.
For United, unsurprisingly, they stuck with the same team that began Monday night’s 2-1 victory at home to Liverpool, with new signing Casemiro among the substitutes, following his transfer from Real Madrid.
With both teams coming into the game high on confidence, it was an intense start, with plenty of pressing and a high work-rate from both teams.
Clear-cut chances were hard to come by early on, though. Fernandes attempted to catch Gavin Bazunu off his line from distance in the seventh minute, after winning the ball inside the Saints area, but he didn’t really get under the attempt, and Diogo Dalot then flashed a delivery across the face of goal shortly after, having worked some room on the right side of the area.
At the other end, a Mohamed Elyounoussi cross found the head of Adam Armstrong at the back post, but, having been a little surprised that it reached him, the forward’s effort lacked power and was an easy gather for David de Gea in the United goal.
In between all of that, there was a poignant round of applause from the Southampton crowd, as former Saints midfielder David Armstrong was honoured on the big screens after ten minutes, following his passing at the age of 67 last week. The home players also wore black armbands in a mark of respect.
On 19 minutes, the first big opportunity – in fact, opportunities – of the game arrived.
They came for United, who were somehow unable to convert a number of huge chances inside a wild few seconds in the Saints area.
It began with Dalot clipping a cross from just outside the corner of the box towards Fernandes at the back post. He looked well positioned to head in, but Kyle Walker-Peters was able to leap in time to get enough of his own head on the ball, diverting it back across the six-yard box. There, it fell to Anthony Elanga, whose close-range strike was saved superbly by Bazunu, only for Elanga to prod the rebound back across goal once again to Fernandes, whose thumping right-footed strike was somehow blocked by Walker-Peters just off the goal line. Then the rebound of that effort dropped to Christian Eriksen only six yards out, but he too was denied as Armel Bella-Kotchap threw his body in the way of the United player’s low strike and diverted the ball clear.
If that was a big reprieve for Saints, the visitors also had one of their own just after the half-hour mark. James Ward-Prowse’s corner was flicked on by Adams at the near post, sending it towards Bella-Kotchap on the other side. He controlled the ball towards the six-yard area with his right foot, but then stretching out with his left he sent it over from close range.
Moments later, Adams got his own sight of goal, controlling and spinning about 12 yards out after receiving a low delivery from Adam Armstrong, but his shot was straight at de Gea.
He had another opportunity on 38 minutes, as a clever reverse pass from Elyounoussi picked out his run, but from the corner of the six-yard box he didn’t get enough on the shot, and de Gea was able to dive and make a comfortable save to his right.
Both managers would probably have taken some satisfaction from the first-half, and neither made any changes in personnel at the break.
United were the first to pose a threat in the second half, but Bazunu was a match for Scott McTominay’s shot in the 48th minute, as he was played into space on the right side of the area. They looked to have carved out an even better opportunity a few minutes later, as Elanga and Fernandes played a slick one-two that looked to have put the former through, but Bella-Kotchap got back to make a perfectly-timed tackle just as the United forward went to get his left-footed shot away.
The pressure was building, though, and it told on 55 minutes when the visitors took the lead.
A smart passage of play worked the ball to Dalot down the right, and his low delivery found Fernandes arriving just inside the area to send a first-time strike into the bottom corner.
Saints were hoping for a quick chance to level, and a number of players felt they should have had it just before the hour mark, as Adams chested a ball down against the hand of McTominay in the area, but despite it bouncing off the United player’s arm more than once, no penalty was given.
Hasenhüttl made his first change soon after, as Stuart Armstrong was sent on for Elyounoussi, before United boss ten Hag introduced Cristiano Ronaldo in place of Jadon Sancho.
Saints went close to levelling in between those two changes, as Adam Armstrong clipped a cross from the left towards the near post area, but Joe Aribo’s header towards the top corner was saved well by de Gea.
Mara was the next man on for the hosts, as he replaced Adam Armstrong, with Hasenhüttl’s side embarking on another recovery mission. But chances in the final 20 minutes were harder to come by than they had been in the comebacks against Leeds and Leicester, although a Bella-Kotchap run towards the area did spark some hope, only for his shot to fly over the bar.
In the closing moments, Moussa Djenepo and Aribo were withdrawn for Romain Perraud and Lyanco, with the latter going up front. Saints did go close in added time when Mara flashed an effort across goal just wide of the top corner, but United held on as the hosts were dealt their first home defeat of the season.