Van Persie scored with United's only two efforts on target to give Louis van Gaal's side its fifth win a row and overtake Southampton in third place. Southampton dropped to fifth behind West Ham after its third straight loss against the teams it hopes to challenge for a top-four spot — Manchester City, Arsenal and United.

Van Persie punished a wasteful performance from the home side, which created enough chances to win the game comfortably.

He took advantage of a defensive blunder to put United ahead after 12 minutes, and went unmarked to meet Wayne Rooney's free kick at the far post to poke in the winner after Graziano Pelle had levelled for Southampton in the 31st.

"I don't think we played our best football today," Van Persie said. "In the end, it's a fifth straight victory. We're on the way up."

United's opener came when Southampton captain Jose Fonte hit a poor backpass to goalkeeper Fraser Forster and Van Persie ran through, waited for Forster to dive and stroked the ball through his legs and into the far corner.

But United was unable to build any momentum from its goal, as Southampton relentlessly attacked in search of an equalizer.

It finally came after Marouane Fellaini gave the ball away in midfield, and Dusan Tadic initiated a quick attack. He played the ball out to Shane Long on the edge of the area, who returned it with a high cross. Tadic's effort was blocked by Paddy McNair, but the ball fell to Pelle who converted from close range.

Long could have put Ronald Koeman's side ahead in the 34th but blasted high and wide from close range after McNair failed to clear a touch from Sadio Mane.

Southampton's dominance was so strong that Van Gaal felt compelled to take off the struggling McNair in the 39th and replace him with Ander Herrera.

But it was Southampton that continued to threaten in the second half.

Tadic floated an inviting ball across the penalty area toward Long, who was only able to head straight at David De Gea.

Southampton missed another chance in the 57th when the Serbia international threaded the ball into Pelle, only for the Italy striker to lift his shot over.

Eventually, a chance fell United's way and Van Persie punished Southampton in the 71st.

Rooney whipped an inviting free kick into Southampton's area and Van Persie ran unmarked to the back post to prod in United's winner.

The defensive lapses, alongside an array of missed attacking chances, left Koeman fuming.

"We lost not to Manchester United tonight, we lost to ourselves," Koeman said. "We did everything. We created chances. We did mistakes, maybe they did more mistakes but they had players who handle that type of mistake and that was the difference."

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