MANCHESTER: Romelu Lukaku struck a dramatic 89th-minute winner as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday to leapfrog Arsenal into fourth place in the Premier League.
United appeared to be heading towards a disappointing home draw when substitute Fred exchanged passes with Luke Shaw and found the in-form Belgian on the edge of the area before Lukaku did the rest with a pinpoint 18-yard finish into the bottom corner.
Solskjaer could even enjoy the luxury of a 95th-minute penalty miss when Paul Pogba’s effort was well saved by Angus Gunn following Stuart Armstrong’s trip on Marcus Rashford.
The win, which extended caretaker manager Solskjaer’s unbeaten run in domestic football to 15 games, was much-needed after it appeared United would drop two potentially crucial points in the chase for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification.
In a game of spectacular goals, Saints midfielder James Ward-Prowse struck a superb 25-yard free-kick, awarded for an Ashley Young foul on Armstrong, into the top left-hand corner of the goal after 74 minutes to make the score 2-2.
Andreas Pereira had himself equalised for United in the 53rd minute as substitute Diogo Dalot combined with Lukaku, forcing the ball through to the young Brazilian who took a touch before curling a magnificent finish into the Southampton goal.
After a lacklustre first-half display, United were now in an irrepressible mood and took the lead just six minutes later through Lukaku although Pereira was again instrumental in the goal.
The midfielder showed his strength to hold off challengers in midfield before slipping through an excellently-timed pass for the striker who finished clinically, into the far corner, from 15 yards.
It was an impressive turnaround from Solskjaer’s team who had been stunned by an incredible 26th-minute strike by Southampton wing-back Yan Valery, the young Frenchman’s first goal in professional football and one he will long remember.
But there were question marks over David De Gea as Nathan Redmond won the ball in midfield, Charlie Austin passed wide to the overlapping 20-year-old and his immaculate 30-yard effort beat the United keeper at his near post.
It was a stunning goal and one which the Saints had been building towards after surviving a strong opening from the hosts who should have taken the lead inside the opening five minutes.
Twice Gunn was required to save from Lukaku from chances which really should have been converted by the United striker.
But Southampton clearly grew in belief after that shaky start and, by the 11th minute, were creating chances of their own as the unmarked Jannik Vestergaard rose to meet a Ward-Prowse corner with a header he planted well off target.
The procession of wasted opportunities continued for United before the interval although Chris Smalling came close, with a header from a Young corner which flew just wide.
United had won just one of their last five home games against the Saints since Alex Ferguson’s retirement and when Solskjaer’s already injury-ravaged squad suffered the loss of Alexis Sanchez, hurt in a challenge with Jan Bednarek after 51 minutes, the hopes of improving that record looked distant.
But the forced introduction of Dalot proved significant with the young Portuguese defender, forced into midfield, sending over a right-wing cross with his very first touch which Rashford headed just wide.
Two United goals soon followed, as did a couple of long-range attempts from Dalot, although it was Ward-Prowse’s superb set-piece and Lukaku’s winner that would provide the final words.