Manchester United fought back from two goals down at half time to secure a dramatic 3-2 comeback victory as Edinson Cavani’s double rescued Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at Southampton.
Jan Bednarek’s header and James Ward-Prowse’s stunning free-kick sent Southampton in at the break with a two-goal lead, but United, who were forced into bringing Dean Henderson on at half-time in place of the injured David de Gea, hit back in the second half.
Cavani – also a half-time substitute, replacing Mason Greenwood at the break – set up Bruno Fernandes for United’s first before the Uruguayan’s 74th-minute header brought the sides level.
There was time for even more drama as Cavani swooped in stoppage time to break Southampton hearts and rescue what looked an unlikely three points for United.
Defeat means Southampton stay fifth, while the three points take United, who move into the top half, up to seventh, five points behind league leaders Liverpool with a game in hand.
United were quick out of the blocks at St Mary’s and they almost capitalised on some poor defending from Jannik Vestergaard which allowed Mason Greenwood to round Alex McCarthy, but the forward could only hit the side netting with his shot.
Fernandes then saw a deflected effort from distance clip the outside of the post after Marcus Rashford’s penalty claims were rejected by referee Jon Moss and VAR Martin Atkinson as the hosts struggled to get a foothold in the game.
That all changed in the 23rd minute when Bednarek headed them in front against the run of play, glancing Ward-Prowse’s corner past De Gea at the near post.
Saints were now suddenly on top as Kyle Walker-Peters saw a deflected shot hit the far post with De Gea beaten.
However, United were almost gifted a way back into the game when McCarthy’s poor pass picked out Greenwood. McCarthy redeemed his error in fine style, blocking Greenwood’s initial before diving at full stretch to block Fernandes’ follow-up.
It proved to be an important moment as Southampton extended their lead soon after, Ward-Prowse whipping a fine free-kick into the top left-hand corner, with De Gea unable to claw the ball out. Ward-Prowse has now scored nine direct free-kicks since his first appearance in the Premier League in the 2012/13 season and that’s more than any other player in that time, ahead of former Tottenham star Christian Eriksen and Manchester United’s Juan Mata.
Henderson came on for injured De Gea at the start of the second half, while Solskjaer turned to Cavani in place of Greenwood as he looked for a response from his side.
McCarthy had to be at his best again to deny Rashford, who ignored team-mate Cavani to take on the shot.
Cavani looked to have a simple finish if picked out by Rashford, but the Uruguayan was soon into the action, firing over on the turn as United looked to build up a head of steam.
The pressure would eventually see them reduce the deficit in the 60th minute, Cavani crossing for Fernandes, who took a touch before striking a low shot past McCarthy.
The pressure continued to build on Southampton and the visitors levelled with 16 minutes to play as Cavani produced a poacher’s finish to head home Fernandes’ deflected shot.
And with the game seemingly heading for a draw going into five minutes of stoppage time, Cavani sealed all three points, heading Rashford’s cross beyond McCarthy.