Manchester United thought they could get away with fielding their reserves, but had them outplayed for an hour by their League One opponents, and needed the introduction of Ryan Giggs from the bench to spare their blushes and install them in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Southampton took a deserved lead from Richard Chaplow just before half-time and held it until the 65th minute, when Michael Owen equalised with his 10th goal of the season. The team from the third tier would not have been flattered by a replay, but were denied even that 10 minutes later by a typical poacher's finish from Javier Hernandez.
Lightning tends not to strike twice in the same place -- one of the many factors that militated against Southampton's class of 2011 repeating the heroics of 35 years ago. As one who reported on the '76 final, take it from me that Nigel Adkins' Saints are not in the same class as Big Lawrie's celebrated alumni. There is no Mick Channon or Peter Osgood in this team that, to keep things in proper perspective, lost 2-0 to Tranmere last weekend. Conversely, the present Manchester United squad are light years ahead of Tommy Docherty's youngsters, who were not long out of the Second Division.
Alex Ferguson clearly felt he could afford to rest his veteran goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, and do without his regular back four. That was the theory, anyway. For the same reason, Owen and Hernandez started, with Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Giggs on the bench. Ferguson opted to keep his powder dry for the Premier League match at home to Aston Villa on Tuesday, but he was taking a lot for granted -- probably too much. His first anxious moment came after seven minutes, when Dan Harding fired the ball past Anders Lindegaard, the debutant in United's goal, but from an offside position.
For United, Owen was narrowly wide from close range after 10 minutes, then struck the crossbar with a right-wing cross after 16, but the League One team were bright and enterprising and took the game to their more celebrated opponents, with the long, leggy Guly do Prado offering the creative contribution one might expect from a Brazilian who furthered his education with Fiorentina.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain laboured busily on the right side of midfield, cutting inside at every opportunity in search of an opening. Ricky Lambert threatened with a free-kick from distance, and after half an hour Ferguson advanced to the edge of his technical area to demand more from his team, who were coming off second best.
Before half-time, the United fans began calling for Giggs, but just before the interval the home crowd erupted when Lambert set up Chaplow, who burst past two ineffective challenges before driving the ball firmly past Lindegaard from 12 yards.
Southampton were good value for their lead -- indeed it should have been 2-0 at the interval, Do Prado heading wastefully over from Danny Butterfield's cross. The Saints' success had been coming down the right, and Ferguson sent on Wes Brown in place of Fabio da Silva for the second half. The rest of the cavalry came 12 minutes later, with the introduction of Giggs and Nani. Still Southampton held their own, and Harding brought a stooping save from Lindegaard.
Unfortunately for the would-be giant-killers, the left-back's finish was not as incisive as his approach work and the underdogs had their bone snatched away after 65 minutes when Owen, eight yards out, headed in Gabriel Obertan's deflected cross.
Giggs then broke the hearts of non-partisan romantics by setting up Hernandez for a cleverly taken winner, the Mexican holding off Jose Fonte before prodding the ball in via Bartosz Bialkowski's left-hand post.
"They played well -- they're flying high in their division," said Owen of Southampton. "In the FA Cup, no matter what standard you're playing against it's always really tough for the first 45 minutes, an hour. Obviously they've got to run more to keep up with us. Then they tire and it's often the way that the better teams come good in the last half-hour. We played in the Carling Cup earlier in the season against Scunthorpe away and it was similar. They went a goal ahead and it was only in the last half an hour that we ran away with it."
Sunday Indo Sport