The pre-match announcer reminded everyone beforehand of Manchester United's impressive record coming into this match, which was eight consecutive wins and a perfect start to this season. However, not only was a ninth denied them, Southampton had the temerity to inflict a first League defeat in 22 games on Sir Alex Ferguson's men, a run that stretched back to last Boxing Day, when they lost 3-2 to Middlesbrough at the Riverside.
Not that this was Gordon Strachan's first win against United as a manager, having also once triumphed when in charge of Coventry City, but this was his first since taking over at Southampton and he marshalled a side here that deserved to beat the champions.
Strachan refused to go into gloating mode after James Beattie's headed winner two minutes from time, but having played under Ferguson at United, this win would have given him no little satisfaction.
"James [Beattie] had a bit of luck, but the harder you work the luckier you get," Strachan said. "I'm very pleased, and our season started today. It was plodding with our first three draws, but now our season's under way." And Strachan praised his whole team for putting in a mammoth effort that for long stretches looked like it would culminate in a draw but instead saw them come away with three points.
Ferguson was philosophical, saying: "We didn't deserve to win but maybe a draw was fair. There were few chances and little inspiration. Saints made it difficult but you can't deny them victory. We've got over these difficulties before but the season is a long one and you don't win anything at this time of year."
Beattie's goal came after it seemed as if Tim Howard was going to prevail in the battle of goalkeepers and goalscorers, as the American pulled off two saves from headers. However, his one mistake proved crucial. He found himself blocked out by Brett Ormerod when Graeme Le Saux swung in a corner and, having worked some space, Beattie nodded the ball in off his temple.
Ferguson defended the man who has replaced Fabian Barthez as United's first-choice goalkeeper. "He had an excellent game, absolutely superb," he said. "He felt he had a little push on the goal but I didn't see that. We're delighted with his form.
"Beattie is a good, old fashioned centre-forward and he causes you problems, he is powerful in the air but his goal was not about climbing above anyone, it was just falling and nodding it into the net."
United were weakened by injuries, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand the most notable. Scholes is now resting his hernia complaint for two weeks, which will mean he will miss England's next two European qualifiers, but could be fit in time for the match in Turkey in October if he does not have surgery. Ferdinand has a kidney infection but will still have to report for England duty, while Nicky Butt also played.
Ferguson called up Diego Forlan as Ruud van Nistelrooy's foil in attack, but even more crucially in midfield only Roy Keane was firing on all cylinders. To make matters worse Kleberson, who was out of position on the right, was helped off clutching a dislocated shoulder in the second half.
In a strangely muted affair that only really ignited in the last 20 minutes with the Beattie versus Howard sideshow, it was intriguing to see United labouring against opponents they have beaten on their last two visits to St Mary's.
That was in part because Strachan opted for a safety first selection that meant just one flair player, Fabrice Fernandes, in midfield, with three others setting out to stifle their opposite numbers.
Southampton also successfully blocked the avenues into Van Nistelrooy, with Ryan Giggs also a subdued figure, although it was the Welshman who tried a back-heel from six yards out, but his compatriot Jones was able to gather with ease.
Not even the introduction of the latest United darling, Cristiano Ronaldo, could elicit much in the way of attacking flair from the visitors and now the Premiership must wait to see if they can produce the same sort of response to defeat as they managed last Christmas.
Goal: Beattie (88) 1-0.
Southampton (4-4-2): Jones 6; Dodd 6, Lundekvam 6, M Svensson 6, Le Saux 6; Oakley 5, Telfer 6, McCann 4 (Marsden 5, 61), Fernandes 6 (Svensson, 86); Beattie 7, Phillips 5 (Ormerod, 76). Substitutes not used: Niemi (gk), Higginbotham.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Howard 7; G Neville 6, O'Shea 6, Silvestre 6, P Neville 4 (Fortune, 89); Giggs 5, Kleberson 4 (Ronaldo 4, 67), Djemba-Djemba 4 (Butt, 77), Keane 6; Forlan 6, Van Nistelrooy 5. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Bellion.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancs) 6.
Bookings: Southampton: McCann.
Man of the match: Beattie.
Attendance: 32,066.Reuse content