Two Robin Van Persie goals were enough to swing lastnight’s Premier League match Manchester United’s way 2-1 at St Mary’s, as the battlefor the remaining Champions League places takes shape, with the likelihood thatChelsea and Manchester City are about to disappear into the distance in therace for the title itself. United at least kept in touch near the top with afifth straight win, albeit five points behind their City rivals and eightbehind Jose Mourinho’s ‘no longer invincibles’, as they scraped into third andleapfrogged Southampton. West Ham hold an unlikely fourth spot and will nodoubt be pinching themselves at present, with manager Sam Allardyce warningagainst complacency at least until into the New Year and seeing where theystand then.

The victory for United (despite a strong recent recordagainst their opponents in the league) seemed highly unlikely as the game woreon, with Saints much the better side. Unlike their recent reversal againstCity, Southampton dominated the away side this time but were unable to show theclinical edge they were regularly showing in earlier games this season,especially in the 8-0 destruction of Sunderland. On the flip side, United fedoff scraps and were in debt to an opportunistic piece of finishing from vanPersie on 12 minutes, when he anticipated a ‘blind’ back pass from Jose Fonteand stepped in to beat Fraser Forster.

Saints deservedly equalised through Graziano Pelle on thehalf-hour mark and settled in to a rhythm that promised much better but couldnot capitalise on their possession and chances.

RVP illustrated the value ofhaving a top striker in the side when he slotted in his second with nineteenminutes remaining and United held on for all three points, despite a shot countof 15-3 in the home side’s favour. Louis van Gaal was not fooled by thevictory, he knows that they still have plenty to do before they can be classedas genuine contenders for the top places, and despite the lack of styleassociated with the three points will at least have something to build on now.He will look to come through the hectic December programme in a similarposition to that ‘enjoyed’ at present, with the January transfer window perhapsopening up further opportunities to strengthen in weaker areas such as the injury-plagueddefensive positions.

As with many of thetop sides, one wonders at times where United would be without the Dutchman’sabilities in front of goal, certainly closer to mid- table one feels. Of course,when you analyse the key influencers on the sides at the top of the leaguethere is a case for suggesting that they are all indebted heavily to their mainstrikers for success at present. Chelsea are a great squad, but their earlyimpetus has been provided by the prolific scoring of Diego Costa with 11 in theleague and have to work noticeably harder for their wins when he is out of theside. City were almost single-handedly steered past Bayern Munich in their lastChampions League game by the brilliant hat-trick from Sergio Aguero, and arerightly concerned at his latest injury that threatens their progression in thatcompetition, besides their league momentum where he is the season’s top scorerwith 14 so far . Even West Ham in fourth powered past Swansea at the weekend inmain due to the re-born Andy Carroll and his aerial prowess that resulted intwo goals for him. Arsenal are having a spluttering season thus far, but wouldbe far worse off without Alexis Sanchez popping up at opportune moments withdecisive goals along the way (nine in the league so far). For last year’srunners-up, Liverpool, the opposite is true, as the ‘stock’ of their injured strikerDaniel Sturridge rises with every passing game he misses and that of thedeparted Luis Suarez has grown to astronomical proportions after more thanthirty goals last season.