Saints were beaten but not disgraced by Manchester United in the big FA Cup fourth-round tie at St Mary’s – having led at half time.

Richard Chaplow fired Saints into a deserved 1-0 lead on the stroke of half time with a beautifully struck half volley after breaking from midfield and into the United penalty area with a lung-bursting run down the inside right channel.

But for the second time in five days, United came from behind to win away from Old Trafford. Defeated just once all season, United improved following the 57th minute introduction of Ryan Giggs and Nani.

Goals in the last 25 minutes from Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez ensured their passage into the fifth round.

But Saints thoroughly deserved to lead 1-0 at half time after an impressive showing during the opening 45 minutes.

Nigel Adkins’ side were not overawed in the slightest, enjoying possession for long periods and keeping the ball with style against the best in the land.

Full backs Danny Butterfield and Dan Harding were a constant threat going forward.

A wonderful crossfield pass from Morgan Schneiderlin to Butterfield brought no joy for Lee Barnard in the air early on.

Saints continued to press.

A first-time cross from Butterfield to Rickie Lambert won Saints a corner when Man Utd centre half Chris Smalling headed behind under pressure from the big centre forward.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a joy to watch, providing more evidence that his burgeoning reputation is fully justified.

The 17-year-old looked at home against the Premiership leaders. Comfortable on the ball and an intelligent runner off it, he added to his price tag as Saints more than matched Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

It was Chamberlain who next threatened United. His cross from the left was headed down by Lambert but Harding was caught offside as Chaplow attempted to thread a pass through a packed penalty area.

Saints continued to pose questions of their illustrious visitors.

Barnard had a shot charged down by Smalling after another Lambert knock down, but Michael Owen soon reminded the Saints defence to remain vigilant.

As a schoolboy footballing prodigy himself during the late 1990’s, the veteran striker will know what it is like to be Chamberlain at the moment.

Looking for his first FA Cup goal since netting for Liverpool against Pompey in a fifth round tie at Anfield six years ago, Owen poked wide of the far post from inside the area after being fed by Fabio Da Silva.

But Saints continued to encourage the home supporters.

Lambert’s first-time strike was saved by Anders Lindegaard as the Danish goalkeeper dived low to left following another good centre by Harding.

Then Hernandez nearly opened the scoring when his cross-cum-shot bounced back off the inside of Bartosz Bialkowski’s far post An excellent direct free kick from Lambert shaped back towards the top corner after bending round the United wall but not enough to find the target.

Then Darren Gibson scuffed wide from the edge of the area after more good work from Fabio down the left flank.

Harding continued to maraud forward and saw his cross headed behind by Jonny Evans And Lambert had another free kick from distance, this time driven over Lindegaard’s crossbar with a strike that was always rising.

Chamberlain, continued to impress but it was Chaplow who broke the deadlock.

The midfielder beat Lindegaard emphatically with a rasping half volley following a surging run.

After a Saints throw in, Chaplow collected the ball on his thigh as he raced into the United penalty area and his confident, angled finish sent a packed St Mary’s into a frenzy.

It was not great defending from United, but the goal was fully deserved for a Saints side that refused to be cowed by the big names on the opposing team.

You can be sure that Ferguson would have given his side the hair-drier treatment at half time but he made only one change, and an enforced one at that.

Fabio had been arguably United’s best player but Saints did not have to defend his powerful runs down the left in he second half as the Brazilian had to be replaced by Wes Brown.

Early in the second half, Harding cut inside with a great run but his right foot was not strong enough to test Lindegaard.

With 57 minutes gone, Ferguson ran out of patience with Darren Gibson and Anderson. Ryan Giggs and Nani were introduced to try and weave their magic.

Giggs had been the main impetus behind United’s staggering comeback at Blackpool in their previous match.

United won 3-2 at Bloomfield Road, despite being 2-0 down with 15 minutes left. Saints, victors over Blackpool at St Mary’s in the previous round, were determined not to relinquish their advantage.

They continued to defend with gusto but it did not take long for Nani to threaten.

His cross from the left was met by Owen at the near post. Fortunately, there was enough pressure on the former England striker to ensure Bialkowski was not tested.

That was not the case moments later.

Owen scored his fourth goal of the season with an opportunist header from ten yards out after Obertan’s cross from the right was deflected into his path.

It was the sort of goal that was Owen’s trademark during his heyday. Saints continued to look for a second goal and were unfortunate that crosses from either flank by Chaplow then Harding did not find a Saints shirt.

Adkins made his first substitution when Ryan Dickson replaced Barnard in the 73rd minute, allowing Chamberlain to play a more central role.

But United completed their second comeback on the road in five days when Giggs’s slide-rule pass found Hernandez, who was falling to ground as he swept United into a 75th-minute lead from ten yards out.

Frenchman Dany N’Guessan, on loan from Leicester City, was handed his Saints debut when came on for the last ten minutes as a replacment Guly.

And Chaplow was given a standing ovation when he was replaced by Oscar Gobern in the 83rd minute.

But United were not in the mood to concede a second Saints goal.