The 33-year-old Uruguayan striker was a half-time replacement for out-of-sorts Mason Greenwood with Saints two goals up and in control of a fluctuating encounter at St. Mary’s – the veteran turning the tide with a virtuoso display and a brilliant headed double.
James Ward-Prowse was United’s tormentor in that first half, setting up Jan Bednarek’s 23rd minute header with a corner before floating a magnificent free-kick beyond David de Gea 10 minutes later.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who watched his side waste a host of chances and also had to replace the injured De Gea with Dean Henderson at the interval, sent on Cavani to perform the rescue act and the deadline-day signing obliged in spectacular style.
Cavani was a constant threat, setting up Bruno Fernandes to pull one back just on the hour before showing the old instincts remained fully intact to divert the Portuguese midfield man’s deflected shot past the excellent Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy with a diving header, 16 minutes from time.
As the game entered injury time, and with Southampton hanging on desperately for a point, Cavani was the match-winner with a flicked header from Marcus Rashford’s cross to spark wild United celebrations as they recorded eight successive top-flight wins away from home for the first time.
Cavani turns the tide for Solskjaer
United had not played particularly badly before Cavani’s introduction, they had simply failed to take opportunities that had come their way – Greenwood shooting into the side of an empty net and McCarthy performing heroics within seconds to save from the young striker before recovering brilliantly to block Fernandes.
Once Cavani came on, he was a constant threat and put the previously confident and combative Southampton side on the back foot.
Cavani set up Fernandes to give United a lifeline just before the hour mark, allowing them to play on Southampton’s growing nerves and it looked only a matter of time before he hit the target himself with Saints on the retreat as he had a shot deflected over and flashed a header just wide of the far post.
He showed the class that has decorated his career with goals when he pounced to send Fernandes’ shot past the defiant McCarthy then provided the final flourish with another deft touch with his head in stoppage time to win it.
It was not a flawless Manchester United performance by any means but being on the road certainly seems to suit them and they showed huge resilience, mixed with quality, for the victory that sends them up into seventh in the Premier League table.
Saints stunned after first-half joy
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl cut a disconsolate figure at the final whistle after seeing his ambitions of victory turn into hopes for a point before he and his side ended up empty-handed.
How different it was as he urged his side on in a frenetic first half and they responded with the two goals that put them in command.
Saints were never truly comfortable defensively however, relying on the excellence of McCarthy as he added to his fine first-half work to superbly deny Rashford when United stepped up the pace after the break.
The energy and physical power of the first half waned as the visitors took control and even before Fernandes pulled one back there was a sense that the momentum was starting to flow towards Solskjaer’s side that a chance taken would only confirm.
Once Fernandes scored, there was only going to be one winner but there was real disappointment for Hasenhuttl and his players, who gave so much but seemed to run out of steam, to have that cruel late blow inflicted.
This still has to be a fine start to the season for Southampton but the defeat will really sting after it seemed like they had Manchester United where they wanted them at half-time.
‘The team is getting better and better’ – what they said
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl: “They played [Edinson] Cavani and he is very hard to defend against. We couldn’t keep the pressure high on them. We tried everything and made a fantastic game.
“We had some fantastic moments – the best I think we can against such sides. I am very happy about what we can play today. The second half, sure, was difficult but we must see the quality and in the end, how difficult it is to defend against the other team. I think the game was good to watch.”
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, speaking to Sky Sports: “It’s one of those that when you win, the mistakes we made don’t really matter. At the end I was so proud at 2-2 because we did so well.
“This team is getting better and better and improving, which is what I want to see.”
Away day comeback kings – the stats
- Manchester United are the first side in Premier League history to win four consecutive away games despite trailing in each.
- Manchester United have won eight consecutive top-flight away games for the first time in their history.
- Manchester United have come from behind to beat Southampton for the 10th time in the Premier League, only United themselves have won as many from behind against an opponent in the competition (10 vs Newcastle).
- Bruno Fernandes is the fourth Manchester United player to score in five consecutive away games in the Premier League after Ruud van Nistelrooy (2002 & 2003), Robin van Persie (2013) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2017).
- Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse scored his ninth Premier League direct free-kick goal in this game, going level with Nolberto Solano, Jamie Redknapp and Frank Lampard; since his maiden Premier League campaign in 2012-13, Ward-Prowse has scored more than other player in the competition.
- Of the past five occasions a player has scored from a direct-free kick and provided an assist from a dead-ball situation in a single Premier League game, three have been courtesy of Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse (also vs West Brom in 2017-18 and Aston Villa in 2020-21).
- Jan Bednarek has scored in three Premier League games for Southampton, with the Saints losing 2-3 at St. Mary’s in all three games.
Southampton are at fellow south coast side Brighton a week on Monday (20:00 GMT).
Manchester United have a Champions League game at home to Paris St-Germain before travelling to West Ham next Saturday (17:30 GMT).