Former Blackburn Rovers striker James Beattie grabbed the winner two minutes from the end of normal time after a lack-lustre performance from United.
The defeat brought to an end United’s 100 per cent start to the season and also saw them suffer their first league defeat in 25 starts.
It was disappointing end to a long day for many United fans who had been up at the crack of dawn to set off for the south coast.
Discussions about the Sunday newspapers’ pre-occupation with David Beckham gave the United fans plenty to talk about on the long journey to Southampton. Whether it was his third minute goal against Real Betis or the upcoming publication of his latest book the former darling of the Old Trafford faithful continues to be huge source of interest despite his summer departure.
The UEFA Champions League draw, and in particular the ties against Scottish champions Rangers, was also a talking point along with the most recent games against Newcastle United and Wolves.
At first glance, it appeared that United were unchanged from the side which squeezed a point out of Wednesday’s clash with Wolves at Old Trafford. But, on further scrutiny a couple of changes emerged from the line-up. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Cristiano Ronaldo were missing from the Wolves game whilst Mikael Silvestre and Ryan Giggs were reinstated. Solskjaer was missing with what was believed to be a minor knee problem, whilst Ronaldo was named amongst the substitutes.
It was a bright, warm day at the St Mary’s Stadium as the game got underway with United defending the goal behind which their supporters were congregeted. And it wasn’t long before Tim Howard’s goal was under threat from Paul Telfer, the former Coventry City star, who hit a grass-cutter that missed Tim Howard’s goal by a couple of feet.
United, wearing a new change kit of black shirts and white shorts for the first time, found the Saints to be a bit of a handful in the opening minutes. The home side had several interesting moments, but thankfully the Reds’ defence held firm.
Gary neville overlapped down the right in the 15th minute before crossing into the middle. The ball found Giggs but he couldn’t get enough on the shot and United’s first real opening of the game had passed.
Gavin McCann’s name was recorded in the referee Mark Halsey’s notebook following a clumsy challenge on Eric Djemba-Djemba.
United were strangely out of touch with little of what they attempted coming off and numerous passes going astray. Even skipper Roy Keane was guilty of sloppy passing and it isn’t often events of that nature can be reported.
McCann was give a fine opportunity to put his side into the lead when he sent away by James Beattie, but his shot disappeared high into the crowd behind Howard’s goal.
A rare United opening was constructed soon after when Giggs gave Forlan aa ball to chase. The Uruguayan made contact with the pass and it appeared that a goal was on the cards until his shot went directly into the arms of Paul Jones in the Southampton goal.
The second half opened with no apparent change to the pattern established before the break. United continued to be well below par whilst the Saints remained the most likely side to open the scoring.
Silvestre beat the Southampton defence to Diego Forlan’s left-wing corner on the hour but he failed narrowly to get his head to the ball.
United lost the services of Kleberson in the 66th minute after he appeared to fall heavily on his right shoulder. He looked to be in some distress and so was immediately withdrawn from the action. Portuguese youngster Ronaldo was quickly stripped and thrust in the fray.
Kevin Phillips, until recently one of Sunderland’s biggest names, looked on course to put his new side into the lead after he wriggled his way past Silvestre, but United keeper Howard pulled off a brilliant diving save to stop the striker’s shot.
A few moments later and United were within inches of taking the lead. Ronaldo was fouled by Graeme Le Saux and from the ensuing free-kick Giggs curled in a shot which thumped against Jones’ crossbar.
Howard proved his worth again when Beattie got above the United defence to head goalward. The ball looked to be looping over Howard but he threw himself backwards to tip the ball over the bar. Another brilliant save from the American international.
Southampton had keeper Jones to thank in the 85th minute after he’d saved magnificently from Forlan’s blistering drive. The ball looked certain to find the net, but Jones had other ideas.
Two minutes from time and United’s defence was finally breached. Le Saux took a corner from the right, which found Beattie who headed firmly into the United net. The Saints had been threatening to to score, but it seemed United were going to hang on for a hard-earned, but largely undeserved point.
Sir Alex Ferguson immediately replaced defender Phil Neville with forward Quinton Fortune but it was too late for United to retrieve the game.