But their frustration is growing. One point from eight games spells danger in anyone's language. It could soon be one point from nine since the Saints' next game is at the home of the champions, Arsenal.
At least Dave Jones and his beleaguered team have a much-needed two-week break to work on what is going wrong. The problem is that Jones, with his hunched shoulders and tired-looking eyes, has the air of a man who is running out of ways to solve the crisis.
"No one at this football club is contemplating relegation," Jones said in defiant response to Carlton Palmer's suggestion in a pre-match radio interview that time was already running out. "There's life in us yet. We just need that break. I'll keep scrapping and so will my staff. The expectations here are very high. It's just that the script has gone wrong. The players I have brought in are not performing to the best of their ability. I know they've got it because they've done it before."
In truth, Southampton had the best chance of the game yesterday. But David Howells' free header from Egil Ostenstad's cross after just two minutes missed the target when it looked easier to score. Significantly, Howells was one of those brought in by Jones during the summer. So was Mark Hughes, who has not scored so far this season but was missing yesterday through suspension and did not get the chance to break his duck against the team where he spent so many successful years.
Typical of Southampton's ill-luck, they were made to pay for Howells' glaring miss within eight minutes when Dwight Yorke opened the scoring with his fourth league goal of the season. After that, it always looked likely that United would end their Dell hoodoo: they had been beaten here on the last three visits, including a 6-3 defeat a couple of years ago.
Just after the Southampton centre-back Claus Lundekvam limped off injured - more ill luck - Andy Cole scored a sublime second goal on the hour, running on to Jesper Blomqvist's exquisitely-timed pass before substitute Jordi Cruyff added the third. Even without the injured Peter Schmeichel, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, United finished worthy winners to move ominously into second place in the table.
"For an hour we gave it a real go," said Jones, who added that his pride would be hurt if he got the sack after the achievements of last season. "It seems that the longer games go on at the moment, the more the fear factor comes into play." Classic bottom-of-the-table talk.
Alex Ferguson was delighted, especially since United had not trained since their delayed return from Munich on Thursday. Roy Keane, despite his usual booking, was outstanding while the Yorke-Cole partnership, one of many options now open to Ferguson, flourished.
Keane was out of the game for almost a year because of a terrible knee injury. "He's going to get better still," said Ferguson, who missed Keane's leadership qualities badly last season. "He's beginning to make the sort of runs he used to before his injury."
Ferguson said he now plans to enjoy the next two weeks after a busy and fruitful recent programme. If only Jones could say the same.Reuse content