Phil Jones a colossus for Man United as Romelu Lukaku sinks Southampton
Manchester United came away from a Southampton with a 1-0 win as anxiety-inducing as their 1-1 home draw against the same club in the dark days of the David Moyes era.
Then, as now, United tried to hold on to an early lead for the rest of the match -- but now, unlike then, they succeeded. Romelu Lukaku's goal was the difference on an afternoon where United showed why their defence will be every bit as vital as their attack to their title challenge come May.
Lukaku scored and led the line superbly, while David De Gea was assured from start to finish, and Phil Jones was fearless and tenacious in defence.
The game passed Henrikh Mkhitaryan by, and Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic found themselves overrun in midfield at various points. There were times, too, when United were exposed at set pieces, quickly though they recovered.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Jose Mourinho's team made heavier weather of this win than they perhaps should have done, with the United boss a little slow to react to Southampton's dominance of midfield and then adding defensive substitutions while Anthony Martial, in excellent form of late, remained on the bench. Was sent to the stands for his trouble late on.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 8 -- Came for the ball in dangerous areas, but did so calmly, and clawed it to safety whenever called upon. Reliable as ever.
DF Antonio Valencia, 7 -- Less effective in attack than in previous matches, with his opposite man having the measure of him and showing him inside. Was given a very difficult time by Nathan Redmond as the game wore on.
DF Phil Jones, 8 -- He has clearly recovered from his mishaps against Stoke, quick to anticipate danger anywhere in the final third and clearing the ball with confidence. He was essential to this victory.
DF Eric Bailly, 7 -- Slightly less assured than Jones for the second league game running, though his clearances were a vital feature of this match, as was his desire to play it safe at all times.
DF Ashley Young, 8 -- His work ethic was superb, as was his assist for the winner. On the rare occasions where he was caught out, he recovered magnificently.
MF Nemanja Matic, 7 -- Found himself outnumbered in midfield after a bright start where he pushed forward in the left-wing and No.10 positions, and his distribution suffered as a result. Not poor by any stretch, but not as imposing as he has been of late.
MF Marouane Fellaini, 8 -- Individually very good, beating his man with confidence at times, putting excellent pressure on the ball and passing positively. Yet he, like Matic, was overwhelmed in midfield at times. Made a superb clearance to deny the home side an equaliser.
MF Juan Mata, 6 -- A good first half but was isolated in the second and was unable to find the space, passing lanes or dangerous positions that have been a hallmark of his play this season.
MF Marcus Rashford, 6 -- Made some fine runs but too often did not make the best decisions at the end of them, his passes just lacking the right weight and his touch not taking him clear of defenders as one would expect. Put in a fine defensive shift towards the end.
MF Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 5 -- A poor performance, where he never quite seemed to find his groove. He was ineffective on the counter, and lost possession too easily against his opposite man. His passing also lacked its usual accuracy. Not his day.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 9 -- Showed smart movement, strength and persistence to score the winner, a follow-up after Fraser Forster had palmed away his close-range header, and led the line with intelligence, peeling away to either flank and coming short for the ball in central areas. A fine all-round performance.
MF Ander Herrera, 6 -- Not as sharp as he could be and it showed. A little slow to close the ball down and should have sealed the game with a chance put over the bar after fine work from Lukaku.
MF Chris Smalling, N/R -- Came on to add much-needed presence, and with his help the game was just about seen out.
MF Daley Blind, N/R -- Effectively came on to run down the clock with too little time to get involved.
Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.