Pointless and bottom after three games does not bode well but there have been plenty of positives so far for Nigel Adkins
Southampton have had that sinking feeling before at this stadium against Manchester United. The last time that Sir Alex Ferguson brought his team here in the Premier League was on the final day of the 2004-05 season. United won and Southampton were relegated, ending their 27-year presence in the top flight.
Plenty has changed since then. Three days before that game, an American businessman called Malcolm Glazer became United's majority shareholder; how that has altered the landscape at Old Trafford. Southampton, meanwhile, have embraced turmoil and chaos before their ascent back up the divisions under Nigel Adkins. Yet as the home crowd drifted away after what had been a pulsating game, enriched by Robin van Persie's hat-trick, they might have reasoned that the heartbreak comes as standard.
Southampton remain without a point on their Premier League return and their next fixture against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium will be another tough one. But if they considered themselves a little bit unfortunate to leave Manchester City on the opening weekend with a narrow defeat, before the home loss to Wigan Athletic, this represented a deeper cut from the Fates.
Adkins spoke of his pride at the performance and how his team's passing "principles" had been right, against a backdrop of impressive individual displays. Ferguson offered him a "well done" at full time; Southampton had demonstrated they could compete against the best. Yet it all seemed like scant consolation. "It's a horrible feeling to lose," Adkins said.
The goalkeeper Kelvin Davis had looked like being the hero, when he beat clear Van Persie's 69th-minute penalty. It was easy to wonder what Van Persie had been thinking about when he tried to be ultra-cute with his scooped kick, and the Dutchman himself admitted afterwards that, indeed, he did not know what had come over him. The stadium pulsed with excitement. It was Davis's second penalty stop of the season, following on from his denial of David Silva at City.
But there were a clutch of others to distinguish themselves in Saints shirts, starting with Morgan Schneiderlin, the holding midfielder, who not only punished Patrice Evra for an untimely slip with a thumping header that threatened to be the winning goal but set the tempo for his team's pressing. Time and again, he crashed into tackles and it was his challenge on Shinji Kagawa that led to Rickie Lambert's opening goal. For much of the afternoon, United's stride was flustered.
Ferguson had shuffled his defensive resources, with the headline-grabbing decision being the omission of the goalkeeper David de Gea, after his error cost United a goal in the 3-2 win over Fulham the previous weekend. "Young David made a mistake," Ferguson said. "He knows it ... one error like that could have cost us the game. It's just a learning process for him and he'll be back in a couple of weeks."
In came Anders Lindegaard and back came Rio Ferdinand after a hamstring injury to partner Nemanja Vidic in central defence for the first time since 7 December 2011, and the ill-starred Champions League defeat at Basle. It spoke volumes about the enterprise of Southampton's performance that what might be considered as Ferguson's first-choice back-line was discomforted so regularly.
Lambert bullied the diminutive right-back Rafael da Silva when he headed home the opener but Ferdinand and Vidic struggled to contain him. There was finesse, too, about his game, most notably in the cross for Schneiderlin's goal, and the attendant England manager Roy Hodgson would surely have taken note. "Rickie had an exceptionally good game," Adkins said. "He gave problems to two experienced centre-halves. He gives us a physical outlet."
The wingers Jason Puncheon and Adam Lallana were also excellent, particularly when they drifted inside to link up the play. The only surprise was that Adkins substituted them both, together with Lambert. In the Sky Sports box, the Saints legend Matt Le Tissier questioned the removal of "the three best goal threats." Adkins said that he needed "fresh energy" and each of the replacements had points to prove.
Lessons will be learned, not least the need to maintain concentration levels for 90 minutes plus injury time. Van Persie's winning goal hurt, particularly as it came from a corner. Yet there were reasons to be cheerful. On this evidence, Southampton will not sink next May.