Saints ended 2017 by producing a performance that suggested there is hope that 2018 will be better.

It seems strange that a year that provided such a highlight in terms of the history of the club – a rare major cup final appearance at Wembley – should feel like it has been one to forget.

But you would probably struggle to find many fans that, EFL Cup aside, have all that many positive things to say about the past 12 months.

A quick look at the stats shows why. Just ten Premier League wins in the calendar year- and that out of 40 matches.

It breaks down to six in 19 under Claude Puel, and four in 21 under Mauricio Pellegrino.

The change of manager, the Virgil van Dijk saga, a slightly mysterious change of ownership of the club. It’s been an odd year at St Mary’s, and one without many victories.

That Saints came away from Old Trafford perhaps feeling it was they rather than Manchester United that would have been the most worthy winners in this game did hint at better things to come.

After the hammering against Tottenham it was just what was needed. A show of character, of unity, of togetherness, and of course ability.

With van Dijk removed from the picture, and a couple of quality signings surely to arrive in January, things could get better.

They do need to. Results before kick-off at Old Trafford underlined still further just how close to peril Saints remain.

But this was much better, from the team and the manager, who made brave calls, and found a formation that really worked with a 4-4-1-1 providing both a solid base and a springboard for attack.

All eyes were on Alex McCarthy in the first half.

Pellegrino’s bold decision to leave out Fraser Forster after 76 consecutive Premier League starts and play a keeper who hadn’t started a top flight match for more than 18 months inevitably thrust him into the spotlight.

He will have been grateful that he didn’t have too much to do, and when he needed it McCarthy also got a bit of luck.

There was not much he could do on four minutes as Juan Mata’s right wing cross picked out the head of Romelu Lukaku but from six yards out and under little pressure he headed over with almost his last action of the game as a head injury saw him stretchered off.

McCarthy made his first save on 27 minutes, blocking Mata’s low drive with his legs and happily seeing the ball ricochet back to him off of Sam McQueen.

He came flying out for Ashley Young’s cross two minutes later, didn’t get to it, but Marcus Rashford headed wide.

Saints did work David De Gea too.

James Ward-Prowse forced him into saves from a low shot following Sofiane Boufal’s right by-line cut back, as well as a free kick, while Wesley Hoedt might have scored with a free header six yards out that he glanced well wide.

Saints survived a penalty shout as Jesse Lingard flicked the ball up in the box and it clearly struck the arm of Maya Yoshida but referee Craig Pawson gave him the benefit of the doubt, before the Manchester United man failed to work McCarthy with a deft header and he made a routine stop from Nemanja Matic.

Saints continued to perform excellently in the second half and had the better chances to win it.

Just five minutes after the restart they broke forward and Ward-Prowse found Shane Long with a low right wing ball. It wasn’t the most convincing side footed finish from the striker but it was on target and De Gea was very relieved to see an odd save with his leg fly over the bar rather than into the net.

Dusan Tadic had a couple of opportunities he couldn’t quite convert, heading over the bar and then shooting wide from just inside the area.

All United managed was scraps.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s shot was an easy save for McCarthy while Paul Pogba poked home at the far post but was offside, though had he not added a touch to Matic’s shot which deflected off Yoshida and McCarthy’s fingertips it may have been a goal.

But it would have been so cruel had Saints not come away with at least a point from this match.

At least there is hope of a happier new year.