Robin van Persie scored a goal in each half as Manchester United edged a narrow 2-1 victory over Southampton to seal a fourth consecutive Barclays Premier League victory.
Van Persie's first goal was a 12th-minute gift after Southampton captain Jose Fonte's played him with a blind backpass and the Dutchman took advantage of another lapse with 20 minutes to play when he appeared unmarked at the far post to prod in Wayne Rooney’s free-kick.
In between Van Persie's goals, Southampton were largely the most threatening team and their attacking intent was rewarded when Graziano Pelle netted a first-half equaliser – his 10th goal in all competitions this term.
After Shane Long and Pelle both passed up chances to find a second goal for the hosts, Van Persie condemned them to a third-straight defeat.
Both teams probed for an opening without success during cautious opening exchanges before Fonte, under pressure from returning United captain Rooney, under-hit a backpass and Van Persie slotted calmly past Forster.
United's defensive injury woes struck again in the 16th minute when Chris Smalling hobbled off with an apparent groin strain to be replaced by Jonny Evans on his comeback from an ankle complaint.
Sadio Mane looked lively on Southampton's left after a recall to Koeman's XI, pouncing on Paddy McNair's heavy touch and storming into the United area, only for the chance to fizzle out, while Pelle tested David de Gea from Dusan Tadic's cutback.
Southampton were posing increasing questions and after Steven Davis drove toward the United area the ball eventually reached Pelle who slammed a fierce shot past De Gea.
Long blazed over from close range as United displayed further defensive uncertainty, prompting Van Gaal to reverse a change to his starting XI and haul off McNair in favour of Ander Herrera six minutes before the interval.
United were on the back foot once more when the action resumed and Southampton will rue the missed opportunity to take a 52nd-minute lead. Tadic's teasing cross picked out Long in the area but with only De Gea to beat his header was directed straight at the Spaniard's midriff.
Southampton continued to push on so it was against the run of play when Van Persie popped up at the far post to direct Rooney's delivery into the net with the outside of his boot.
De Gea then added to his catalogue of magnificent saves over recent outings in the 77th minute when he plunged to his left to turn Pelle’s fizzed strike wide. But United, who scored from their only three shots on goal, held on to leapfrog Southampton and go third, eight points behind leaders Chelsea.
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman: "We did everything, we created chances. But we also did mistakes. Maybe they [United] did more mistakes than we did but they have players who handle those kind of mistakes and that was the difference today.
"I said to my players, we lost not against Man United tonight; we lost by ourselves. It is always difficult because you are the better team and you have to fight again against 2-1 down. After that moment we didn't play well but that's the difference. At this level details make the difference in football."
"I like to see my team playing football in the way that we've started this season. If we lose or we win, that's our way of playing because I believe in that way of playing even now when we've lost the last three games.
"[Manchester] City were the much better team but we deserved more against Arsenal, we deserve much more tonight but we did mistakes.
"If you give players like Van Persie those kind of mistakes, he will punish you - he will punish you for sure."
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal: "We lost the ball too easily in the first half, I think. We didn't have good positional play.
"The only chances that Southampton created were when we lost the ball. That was not good, despite our good result. We got a present from Southampton
"We needed confidence on the ball, which we didn't have - I said that at half-time. I think Southampton played better than Manchester United but we were the lucky guys.
"I want them to show the confidence that we have shown on the training ground - this week we have trained fantastically. But I I didn't see it on the matchday and that's the most important hour. You have to show yourself on the matchday."
|13 Dec 2014||v Burnley (A)|
|20 Dec 2014||v Everton (H)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|
|28 Dec 2014||v Chelsea (H)|
|01 Jan 2015||v Arsenal (H)|
|11 Jan 2015||v Man Utd (A)|