Robin van Persie’s double lifted Manchester United into third place in the Barclays Premier League with a 2-1 win over Southampton at St Mary’s on Monday night.

The Dutchman’s sixth and seventh goals in five starts against the Saints extended the Reds’ winning run to five successive matches and ensured Graziano Pelle’s first goal since October was nothing more than a consolation as Louis van Gaal’s men leapfrogged the hosts and also West Ham in the table.

United were made to work hard for the win though, and could be thankful for a couple of second-half interventions made by David De Gea to prevent the hosts from increasing their goal tally on an evening when Southampton showed plenty of attacking intent.

Wayne Rooney returned to skipper the travelling Reds, but it was his strike partner who announced himself with greater impact in the early stages. The encounter began calmly and was starved of any threat from either side until van Persie latched onto Jose Fonte’s weak backpass and rolled the ball through the onrushing Fraser Forster’s legs to open the scoring.

Pelle looked for the goal-getting response two minutes later, but the towering frontman was too far ahead of the near post when meeting a corner with a header well wide.

A solid first quarter-hour for United was dampened by an early injury – a strain in Chris Smalling’s lower body – that forced the defender off and also prompted a comeback for substitute Jonny Evans.

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