Wayne Rooney puts Man United seven clear, Chelsea held
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The England striker then tapped in from close range after 27 minutes but the expected United domination failed to materialise as Southampton made it an awkward night for the leaders.
"Winning is the name of the game at this stage of the season," United manager Alex Ferguson said.
"For the first 30 minutes I thought we were fantastic, we played really well. But in the second half Southampton have been the best team to play here this season.
"We were fortunate to win the game."
Southampton might have earned a draw late on when Rickie Lambert's free kick forced a flying save from David De Gea.
Chelsea took the lead on the stroke of halftime through Juan Mata and Frank Lampard's thumping header should have secured the points for Rafa Benitez's team but they suffered a late ambush.
Le Fondre, who came on after 66 minutes, gave Reading hope when he drilled in a shot after 87 minutes and deep into stoppage he calmly side-footed his side's equaliser to move his side out of the bottom three.
He has now scored six goals after coming on as substitute this season, more than any other player in the top flight.
Benitez was not impressed with his side's collapse.
"The atmosphere was not good in the dressing room," he said. "It's very difficult to take."
Rumblings of discontent were growing around the Emirates as Arsenal's Swiss-cheese defence allowed Liverpool into a two-goal lead although their response was impressive.
Suarez benefited from a catalogue of stumbles, slips and poor clearances to bag his 17th league goal of the season early on and Henderson managed to get through several attempted tackles to put Liverpool two up after 60 minutes.
Giroud then headed Arsenal back into the game and Walcott's sizzling finish completed Arsenal's recovery.
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