Javier Hernandez booked Manchester United's place in the FA Cup fifth round as the Mexican striker clinched a hard-fought 2-1 victory over League One Southampton.
United were in danger of heading out of the competition in embarrassing fashion after being outplayed by the hosts, who took a 44th minute lead through Richard Chaplow. But the second half introduction of Welsh midfielder Ryan Giggs helped turn the tide at St Mary's as Michael Owen and Hernandez struck after the break to spare United's blushes.
That saved United manager Sir Alex Ferguson from an inquest into his team selection as his decision to field a team of reserves briefly looked set to backfire. Ferguson's selection showed his confidence that Southampton would present his side with few problems, with seven changes from the line-up that started at Blackpool four days previously.
Goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard was handed a first appearance since his recent move from Danish outfit Aalesund, while Owen made only his fifth start of another injury-plagued season. The former England striker was employed in an unfamiliar midfield role, operating behind Hernandez and Gabriel Obertan and was clearly keen to make an impression.
Owen produced United's first chance of the game, exchanging passes with Obertan before shooting narrowly wide in the 11th minute. Then moments later he almost caught out Bartosz Bialkowski with a cross that looped over the Southampton goalkeeper and bounced to safety after clipping the bar and post.
Even before then, however, Southampton had served notice of their threat with left-back Dan Harding having an eighth minute-effort chalked off for offside. And after Owen had provided a couple of early scares, Saints settled to take control of the game. Rickie Lambert sent a long range effort narrowly over the bar before centre-back Jose Fonte caused confusion at a corner.
It was no surprise when United's defences were finally breached on the stroke of half-time through Chaplow's excellent finish. Southampton were helped on their way by some poor United defending with Fabio da Silva caught out by Lambert's flick, allowing Chaplow to get a clear sight of goal. And the former England U-21 international made no mistake with the opportunity, lashing a powerful volley into the roof of the net.
Fabio was replaced by Wes Brown at half-time as Ferguson attempted to revive his ailing side but the visitors still lacked a cutting edge. They could have fallen further behind had Harding produced a finish to match his excellent mazy run in the 54th minute. Ferguson had seen enough and threw on the experienced Ryan Giggs and Nani before the hour while pushing Owen into a more familiar striking role.
And the move quickly paid dividends with Owen demonstrating the striker's instinct that once made him European footballer of the year when he met Obertan's right wing cross and headed past Bialkowski. The momentum was now with the visitors, although a neat corner routine demonstrated that Southampton were by no means finished.
Harding and Chamberlain combined to catch the visiting back four out with Harding drilling a low cross that flew narrowly wide. That, though, was the home side's last chance of winning the tie with United finally clinching the winning goal in the 76th minute. Saints substitute Ryan Dickson was caught out deep in his own half, losing the ball to Giggs, who played in Hernandez and the Mexican cleverly steered his shot home while stumbling to the floor.