Knocked out of the FA Cup last season by a League One side, Leeds United, Manchester United were in danger of a similar embarrassment here last night, before Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez – aka "Little Pea" – finally pulled rank. Richard Chaplow, who once knocked Liverpool out of the Cup in his Burnley days, scored just before half-time and Southampton's deserved lead was held until almost midway through the second period.All in all Nigel Adkins' side gave a fine account of themselves, even if they tired towards the end.
Chaplow, Lee Barnard and Rickie Lambert formed an effective trio, the one disappointment for Southampton being that the highlyregarded Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – son of the former Stoke and England winger Mark – was unable to force his way into the game. Arsenal and United are believed to be rivals for his signature, which like those of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale, would cost a good few million pounds. He found John O'Shea in the first half and the substitute Wes Brown in the second, hard nuts to crack. "He's got a great future but we're not envisaging selling him," Adkins said before hurrying off for a drink with Sir Alex Ferguson, anticipating a question or two about his 17-year-old prodigy.
As for the game, Adkins, who was the club's fifth manager in two years when he joined in September, said: "We were pleased to go in one-up and wanted to pass the football. For the second goal it was maybe our downfall that we passed it in the wrong area." He seemed more concerned with "a very important game against Exeter City on Tuesday".
Defeat, or even a draw, would not have reflected well on United's selection policy or system, even if many of their reserves would walk into other Premier League teams. Memories of how comfortable they had been in their 3-0 romp here in the Cup two years ago – admittedly against 10 men – may have influenced Ferguson in starting without Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs and Nani, all of whom were huddled in the dug-out. Edwin van der Sar and a complete back-line of Rafael da Silva, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra did not even make it that far as Ferguson made eight changes from the team that had staged a comeback at Blackpool in midweek.
He put his faith in an unexpected system featuring Owen behind the two main strikers, Hernandez and, less predictably, Gabriel Obertan. The Danish international Anders Lindegaard made his debut in goal and had barely touched the ball before having to pick it out of his net from Dan Harding's shot, relieved to see an assistant referee's flag raised.
Before the end of a lively first half there were other promising efforts from the home side, and then a goal. When Guly do Prado headed too high from Danny Butterfield's cross in the 43rd minute, it seemed as if a glorious chance to lead at the interval had been frittered away. But a minute later, Barnard forced the ball forward for Chaplow and the shot flew inside Lindegaard's near post.
In between times Owen had almost opened the scoring with a freak effort.Sent down the flank by O'Shea, he aimed what was intended to be a cross for Hernandez that instead hit the inside of the far post.
Doubtless on the end of an earbashing at half-time, United did not immediately improve and before the hour mark an unhappy Ferguson sent on the cavalry in the form of Giggs and Nani. So Rooney and Berbatov were left to shiver while Owen dug United out of a hole.
In the 65th minute, Obertan deceived his marker on the right and as United appealed for handball from the cross, Owen was perfectly placed to head in. Southampton were unable to test Lindegaard again and shortly afterwards United were ahead with a second goal in 10 minutes. Owen stole possession from the substitute Ryan Dickson and supplied Giggs for a pass to Hernandez, who provided the type of clever finish for which he has become renowned. Although falling to his left he was able to slip the ball just wide enough of the goalkeeper to spare his team's blushes.
Ferguson admitted it had been a mistake to play without United's usual width. "I meddled with the system and it wasn't working," he said. "Their goal if anything got us playing." Which was just as well.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Scholes