EDINSON Cavani inspired a Manchester United comeback as Saints were left to ponder a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat against the Red Devils.

The Uruguayan provided two goals and an assist having come on as a second-half substitute, with Saints initially leading 2-0 at St Mary’s.

Bruno Fernandes also found the net for the visitors to help cancel out first-half goals from Jan Bednarek and James Ward-Prowse.

The defeat left Saints fifth in the Premier League and ended their seven-game unbeaten run. Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl named an unchanged starting XI and squad from the group who sealed a 1-1 draw at Wolves on Monday.

That meant Oriol Romeu, who signed a fresh two-and-a-half-year deal with the club last week, made his 200th Saints appearance.

United made two changes, with Nemanja Matic and Mason Greenwood coming in for Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial.

French forward Martial was left out of the visitors’ squad all together after falling ill overnight.

Full-back Brandon Williams, who has been linked with a loan move to St Mary’s, was named on the bench for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.

And it was United who almost broke the deadlock in the opening exchanges on the south coast.

Greenwood burst behind Saints’ backline and having taken the ball away from the onrushing Alex McCarthy, the England international could only find the side netting from an acute angle.

Referee Jon Moss then waved play on after Marcus Rashford went down in the hosts’ box, under the challenge of Ward-Prowse. A VAR check also proved nothing conclusive.

Portuguese playmaker Bruno Fernandes was then on the end of a crunching challenge from Romeu – but picked himself up to send a deflected effort just wide of the post minutes later.

United had looked the more likely to find the net in the opening quarter of the contest but it was Saints who took the lead on 23 minutes.

Ward-Prowse’s inswinging corner was perfect for the near-post run of Bednarek to rise highest and head in from close range. It was the Poland star’s first goal since January.

Saints then came within inches of finding a second. Neat hold-up play from Che Adams allowed Kyle Walker-Peters the chance to get forward and fire at goal.

His drilled effort deflected off Alex Telles and clipped the outside of the post.

Saints were to get their second however and it was super skipper Ward-Prowse from a free-kick.

After Moussa Djenepo was felled on the edge of the box, the England midfielder whipped the ball over the visitors’ wall and into the top corner – leaving United keeper David de Gea in a heap at his near post.

Saints could have even had a third before the interval. Malian Djenepo drove forward and saw his shot parried by de Gea – with Stuart Armstrong unable to convert on the follow-up.

Spanish keeper de Gea was unable to continue for United after crashing into the post trying to keep out the second goal.

He was replaced by Dean Henderson at the interval, with the visitors also replacing Greenwood with Cavani.

Henderson was worked early to field efforts from Theo Walcott and Ward-Prowse as Saints looked to kill off the contest early in the second half.

But it was the stopper at the other end that kept Saints in the box seat. McCarthy flew to his left to deny Rashford after the forward had sprung behind the home defence.

Cavani then saw his effort blocked over the top after turning and firing inside the box.

But the Uruguayan was to provide a catalyst for United after crafting a response for the Red Devils on the hour mark.

After Saints lost the ball on the left, Cavani picked out Fernandes inside the box. He was allowed to take a touch and sweep in.

Striker Cavani himself then spurned a glorious chance to level it with quarter of the game remaining. He glanced wide after Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross found him in space.

The former PSG forward was to get his goal however, as United drew level 16 minutes from time.

After the hosts could only half-clear from a corner, Fernandes’s strike fell to Cavani to head in and make it 2-2.

Cavani was not done there however, as he added another cruel blow in stoppage time. He headed in Rashford’s cross from the right to steal it late on.

Saints: McCarthy, Walker-Peters (N’Lundulu, 90+3), Bednarek, Vestergaard, Bertrand, Armstrong (Diallo, 90), Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Djenepo (Long, 72), Walcott, Adams.

Unused subs: Stephens, Obafemi, Tella, Forster (g/k).

Booked: Ward-Prowse.

United: De Gea (Henderson, h-t), Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles (Williams, 84), Fred, Matic, van de Beek, Fernandes, Rashford, Greenwood (Cavani, h-t).

Unused subs: Mata, James, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe.

Booked: None.

Referee: Jonathan Moss.

VAR: Martin Atkinson.