A spirited first-half comeback saw Manchester United fight back from two goals down to grab a point at Southampton after a 2-2 draw at St Mary's.
The Reds fell behind to an early Stuart Armstrong strike and when Cedric doubled Southampton’s lead from an excellent free-kick the signs looked ominous, but in typical United fashion, Jose Mourinho’s men fought back to level at the break thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Ander Herrera. Both teams huffed and puffed for the winner, but to no avail as the second half ended all square.
The boss was forced to make five changes to the Reds’ side due to injuries and that meant Scott McTominay, Phil Jones and Nemanja Matic played alongside each other in a back three; meanwhile Ashley Young, Herrera, Paul Pogba and Lukaku all came back into the starting XI.
Pre-match Mourinho had insisted he wanted his United players to use the Christmas period to 'smell' the top-four positions and that hunger seemed to have rubbed off as the Reds were sniffing around the Saints box early on. Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy missed his kick under pressure from Marcus Rashford and United’s no.10 backheeled the ball towards the penalty spot where Lukaku was lurking, but the Saints stopper got back to clear the danger.
At the other end, Jones did well to block debutant Michael Obafemi’s shot as Saints looked to catch United on the counterattack at every opportunity.
That was to be a warning sign and with their first shot on target they went ahead. The dangerous Nathan Redmond weaved his way into the box and found Obafemi who laid the ball off to Armstrong, who was free on the right side of the box and he fired low past David De Gea to give the Saints the lead.
Seven minutes later and it was two. Rashford brought down Mario Lemina on the edge of the box, and Cedric did the rest from 25 yards, curling past De Gea into the top corner.
United knew the next goal was crucial and a sense of urgency was in our play as Young crossed from the right, but McTominay headed over from 10 yards, before Rashford fired over from 25 yards.
On 33 minutes Lukaku found his goalscoring touch when United needed it the most. Pogba found Rashford who held off two Saints defenders and squared for Lukaku who thumped the ball into the roof of the net
That goal fuelled United’s belief that a second was just around the corner and just six minutes later we were level. A fantastic driving run from Rashford down the right resulted in the Reds youngster crossing low for the arriving Herrera to cutely backheel ball through McCarthy’s legs from close range.
The Reds, playing in our third blue kit, started the second half like we ended the first and Fellaini could have put us in front with a free header, but the ball flew narrowly over the crossbar.
At the other end Redmond fired straight at De Gea, before former Saint, Shaw, fired just wide at the right end.
Substitute Manolo Gabbiadini tested De Gea, whilst Pogba’s acrobatic scissor-kick did the same to McCarthy as both sides looked for the winner.
Shaw picked up a knock and was replaced by Diogo Dalot who came on for his Premier League debut at right-back with Young switching to the other side.
As the clock ticked down, Redmond tried his luck from 35 yards out which De Gea did well to tip over and that was the closest both sides came in the second half as the spoils were shared.
Southampton: McCarthy; Stephens, Yoshida, Vestergaard, Cedric; Valery, Lemina (Davis 90+2), Højbjerg ©, Armstrong; Obafeni (Gabbiadini 64), Redmond.
Subs not used: Gun, Hoedt, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Austin.
Scorers: Armstrong 13, Cedric 20.
Booked: Hojberg, Lemina, Vestergaard, Armstrong.
United: De Gea, Young ©, Jones, McTominay, Shaw (Dalot 72), Matic, Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Rashford (Martial 77), Lukaku (Lingard 86).
Subs not used: Romero, Rojo, Fred, Mata.
Scorers: Lukaku 33, Herrera 39.
Booked: Rashford, Fellaini, Pogba, Young.