RVP makes amends after penalty shocker
Robin van Persie recovered from an embarrassing penalty miss to hit a hat-trick as Sir Alex Ferguson's 1,000th league game in charge of Manchester United ended in a dramatic 3-2 victory at Southampton on Sunday.
Earlier in the day, Arsenal picked up their first win of the season at the expense of Liverpool, while Newcastle drew at home to Aston Villa, who earned their first point of the campaign.
Ferguson's incredible milestone as Manchester United boss was described merely as "another game I want to win" by the Scot on the morning of their trip to Southampton, but with neighbours City four points ahead in the table it was a fixture United needed to win in order to maintain the early pace.
However, the Red Devils twice fell behind at St Mary's before being gifted the chance to level at 2-2 with 20 minutes remaining. Van Persie stepped up, but tried a showboating dink that was saved by Kelvin Davis.
That appeared to be costly as United entered the 87th minute still trailing 2-1, but it was time for Van Persie to go from villain to hero, stabbing home an equaliser before heading home the winner at a corner in injury-time.
Boosted by the return of Rio Ferdinand to a defence that guarded a new goalkeeper - Anders Lindegaard replacing the erratic David De Gea, United nevertheless looked a shambles at the back as goals from Rickie Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin nearly won it for Saints. However, Van Persie's topsy-turvy afternoon had the final say as United moved within a point of City.
Van Persie was first to threaten on the south coast, chesting and volleying wide in the sixth minute having pulled into his favoured left channel. Southampton responded with a well worked corner that saw Adam Lallana arrive on the penalty spot, only to scuff his first-time effort wide.
That should have served as a warning to United but when the ball was next delivered into their area, they had no answer to a trademark Lambert finish. Peeling away to the back post, the striker pinned himself to his marker to send a towering header beyond Lindegaard for a shock Southampton opener.
That lead lasted all of seven minutes as United responded in predictable fashion, Antonio Valencia crossing from the right flank to Van Persie, who found space at the back post thanks to an unfortunate slip by Nathaniel Clyne. Chesting down, the finish was inevitable at the Dutchman drilled a volley low across goalkeeper Davis.
Van Persie looked United's best bet for another goal, but there was little excuse for a gilt-edged miss 10 minutes into the second period, when he completely sliced from the middle of the area having been found unmarked.
Instead it was Southampton who once again took the lead, Morgan Schneiderlin exposing some poor marking by Patrice Evra to head into the bottom corner. It could quickly have been 3-1 too, but for a reflex save from Lindegaard after Jason Puncheon had got the better of Evra.
Cue Van Persie's moment of madness with 20 minutes remaining, when he got too cute with his penalty - sparking jeers from the home crowd. The Dutchman had the last laugh though, poking into an open net before rising highest at a corner for a dramatic turnaround.
Goals from summer signings Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla proved the difference as Arsenal grabbed a confidence boosting 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield. Cazorla, the wily Spanish playmaker, was at the heart of much of the Gunners' best play - slipping the ball through to Podolski to break the deadlock towards the end of the first half, and then finding the net himself in the second with a low drive that squirmed beneath Pepe Reina.
Reina, in truth, had reason to be disappointed with his efforts for both goals, although Liverpool were generally disappointing in a disjointed display. Nuri Sahin failed to sparkle on his debut in the heart of midfield, while Fabio Borini was substituted early on in an ineffectual performance as Luis Suarez was also kept relatively quiet by the Arsenal backline.
The home side did have their chances, however, with Vito Mannone forced into a couple of smart saves at key points in the match. Daniel Agger wasted a good chance from a corner after rising unmarked, while the lively Raheem Sterling was perhaps unlucky to hit a post after wriggling free of Per Mertesacker's attentions.
Arsenal's opening was hardly against the run of play, however - prior to Podolski's strike Olivier Giroud had squandered a similar chance after another clever Cazorla pass. The Frenchman would also head well over late on, after the club's first league win of the campaign had already been assured.
Having now taken one point from their first three matches, meanwhile, Liverpool are in the midst of their worst start to a season since 1962-63 - giving Brendan Rodgers much to ponder on what would have been Bill Shankly's 99th birthday.
Like Southampton, Aston Villa were pointless in the Premier League heading into the weekend's action, but they got their season up-and-running with a 1-1 draw at Newcastle. Paul Lambert left Shay Given, Charles N'Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor on the bench for the trip to St James' Park, and his team responded with a hard-fought point thanks to Ciaran Clark.
Villa took the lead in the 22nd minute thanks to some hospitable Newcastle defending, which allowed Clark the freedom of the home side's penalty area. Barry Bannan delivered the centre, and Clark stooped to head his side in front.
However, Newcastle had the more imaginative attacking options in their line-up, and Hatem Ben Arfa produced a piece of brilliance to earn a point on the hour. Latching onto the ball, he rifled into the far right corner to deny Villa the victory.