Sitting five places and four points below their opponents prior to the weekend, United weren't preparing to face a Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, but Southampton. That much was not only an indictment of the Red Devils' failings under David Moyes thus far but also highlighted the Saints' rise under Mauricio Pochettino, and before kick-off there was a real feeling that the visitors could get a result.
The point that Southampton eventually secured was their first at Old Trafford in 14 years and one that their performance fully merited. Indeed, if one side could claim a case for picking up all three as the game progressed it was certainly the Southerners, whose last victory at United came way back in 1988.
Although a draw against a side that have developed as impressively as Southampton over the past nine months is not the end of the world, it was the latest in a string of disappointing results for Moyes. If the Scot considered himself to be in the hottest seat in English football upon his arrival the temperature continues to rise with every unconvincing display.
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It was United's failure to close out a game that they led for over an hour that has drawn the most criticism, with the fans far more accustomed to celebrating last gasp goals under the previous regime than conceding them. Whilst most would agree that to compare Moyes to his compatriot and predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson at such an early stage in his tenure at the club is unfair, it's also an inevitability.
A cornerstone of Fergie's success was always the mindset that he seemed to enforce upon his players. If a game wasn't going their way they'd generally have the last laugh, rallying late on to ensure that any potential upset was avoided. Now, although the personnel are largely the same, that conviction has been called into question, and the numbers don't look good for the increasingly under pressure incumbent of what is arguably the biggest job in club football.
Adam Lallana's 89th minute equaliser on Saturday may have led to something of a shock result, but in truth the goal was coming. When including five minutes of injury time, the final half an hour of the game saw United muster just one shot, which was wayward from Rafael. In the same time period the Saints had nine attempts, with Lallana's inadvertent goal the seventh of those.
The visitors had 18 attempts in total to United's 12 and tested goalkeeper David De Gea seven times, with Artur Boruc called into action on five occasions in comparison. The away side also had more of the ball, with 54 percent of possession, though Moyes' men have only averaged marginally less in that respect than they did under Ferguson last term (55.7 percent to 56.2 percent).
If you look at the final 15 minutes plus added time in league matches under Moyes it's clear that the issue is that United are lacking the clinical touch in the final third.
The Red Devils scored 15 times after the 75th minute of league matches last season from an average of just 2.8 shots in that period per game. That left them with a conversion rate of 13.9 percent in the dying embers of matches. Meanwhile, this season the side have actually averaged more shots after the 75th minute per game (3.3) but they've scored just three goals in that period, with an 11.5 percent conversion rate enough to make the difference.
It's also worth noting that those strikes have come in matches where, in effect, there has been nothing to play for. Danny Welbeck's late strike against Swansea and Wayne Rooney's 81st minute free-kick against Crystal Palace helped to secure comfortable wins, while the latter's set piece in the dying minutes at Manchester City proved nothing more than a consolation in a humiliating 4-1 defeat.
In essence, United would have had the same number of points without those goals. In contrast, due to goals scored by either team in and beyond the 75th minute last season the eventual champions picked up an extra 10 points towards their title charge. That excludes the Manchester derby at the Etihad last season when United led going into the final quarter of an hour of the game before Pablo Zabaleta equalised, only for Robin van Persie to fire home an injury-time winner. They did drop points in four league matches, but the first of those didn't come until late in January in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham.
At present David Moyes' side are two points worse off, following the draw at the weekend, due to late goals. If United aren't in positive figures in that regard soon than it's likely that their Premier League crown will be headed elsewhere come May, and their hopes of retaining the title could be over far sooner.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.