MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – Romelu Lukaku struck a dramatic 89th-minute winner as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday night to leapfrog Arsenal into fourth place in the Premier League.
United appeared to be heading towards a disappointing home draw until 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.
Solskjaer’s mentor Alex Ferguson became renowned for his team’s last-minute winners during a golden era that featured him, who scored a stoppage-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
“It was like the old days,” beamed Solskjaer.
“I’ve been part of that so many times myself. We spoke about it at half-time and said get the ball in the box and play more forward because the Stretford End will absorb it in for you.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Andreas (Pereira) and Romelu, because they were great finishes, but that spirit is just part of this club’s history. We have done it so many times before.”
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.
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 De Gea’s 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.
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.
Solskjaer’s side will be aiming to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the Champions League last 16, second leg at Paris Saint Germain (PSG) on Wednesday.
“The dressing room was bouncing, they were happy, looking forward to Wednesday,” said the Norwegian.
“We’re playing against one of the best teams in Europe with some absolute quality players but who knows? This has happened before, so many great comebacks.
“The Champions League has given quite a few of those comebacks, PSG against Barcelona for example. We have to do it away from home, but we have eight straight wins away from home.”