Manchester United produced a gritty victory against Southampton as in-form scorer Romelu Lukaku produced a late winner in a five-goal thriller.
Southampton had stunned Old Trafford with a first-half lead through a Jan Valery blockbuster, but the Reds stormed back in the second half with a wonder hit from Andreas Pereira and a Lukaku strike.
The dogged Saints wouldn’t lie down and a James Ward-Prowse free-kick made it 2-2.. Just when it looked like the recent bout of home draws against Burnley and Liverpool would drag on, Lukaku came up with a winner and there was still time for Paul Pogba to have a penalty saved by Angus Gunn.
After three minutes, Lukaku, who’d bagged two in the 3-1 win at Crystal Palace, drilled a left-foot shot heading for the bottom corner of Gunn’s net. But the keeper stretched out an arm and got contact with his glove to steer the ball away for a corner.
Gunn then had to be alert to ensure a suspected cross from Andreas, that turned into a threatening goal chance, was flipped over to safety. Within seconds, Gunn was earning his money for the day as he smothered Lukaku’s attempt from four yards to stab home.
Southampton rallied quickly after the early intense pressure and had an appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Stuart Attwell after an untidy tangle between Chris Smalling and Ryan Bertrand. Following United’s lively start, the Reds went somewhat flat but, completely out of the blue, found ourselves a goal behind.
It took the sting completely out of United’s second-half comeback and it was now Southampton’s turn to take up the threat in a match that was swinging violently from one side to the other as the teams slugged it out for victory.
But the attacking mode was then grabbed back by the Reds as Old Trafford overflowed with excitement again. Substitute Fred managed to slip a ball to Lukaku and the hitman rolled round defender Jan Bednarek and fired the ball low past Gunn for the third. He took his shirt off in celebration but it was worth the booking!
Pogba had the chance to end any chance of a nail-biting finale when he was handed the opportunity of a fourth goal from the spot after Rashfird was brought down by Stuart Armstrong inside the box, deep into injury time.
However, the Frenchman’s penalty was saved by early hero Gunn who had the final say by kicking out a leg to divert it to safety, but not the winning one as United triumphed in a see-saw entertaining bout to go fourth in the table.
Southampton swept the ball from left to right and full-back Valery burned forward to receive the ball 30 yards out. It takes some doing to beat David De Gea from long range but the 20-year-old French-Tunisian surprised everybody with an explosive thunderbolt that shot past the Spaniard.
United were struggling to get any rhythm back but Luke Shaw almost undid his former club with an inviting cross that both Marcus Rashford and Lukaku contrived to miss completely in the penalty area. The Belgian then failed to make full contact with an enticing Pereira delivery.
Smalling was frustrated when his header from a corner just missed the target as Old Trafford attempted to rouse United and unsettle the relegation-threatened visitors.
United: De Gea, Young (c), Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; McTominay, A. Pereira (Fred, 82), Pogba, Alexis (Dalot 51), Rashford (Chong 95), Lukaku.
Subs not used: Grant, Bailly, Rojo, Gomes.
Scorers: Pereira 53, Lukaku 59,88
Bookings: Lukaku, Pogba
Southampton: Gunn, Yoshida (Gallagher 89), Vestergaard, Austin (Armstrong 63), Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Bertrand, Redmond, Hojbjerg, Bednarek, Valery
Subs not used: McCarthy, Stephens, Elyounoussi, Targett, Slattery
Scorers: Valery 26, Ward-Prowse 75