Louis van Gaal admitted Manchester United were fortunate to beat Southampton after a less than convincing performance.
Robin van Persie scored twice either side of a Graziano Pelle strike, but the visitors were frequently loose in possession and needed a strong performance from goalkeeper David de Gea to secure the win.
Van Gaal felt his side "lost the ball too easily in the first half because our positional play wasn't good" and that "Southampton were the better team."
He said: "The only chances Southampton created were when we lost the ball, and that was not good. We needed confidence on the ball, which we didn't have, and I said something about that at half-time. I think we were better in the second half but Southampton [still] played better than us.
"Our first goal was a gift and the second was made easier because I saw the goalkeeper coming out of his goal. We were very lucky. I didn't see the confidence that I saw on the training ground earlier this week. We trained very well this week, and I did not see it on the match day -- that is the most important time to show yourself.
"We didn't give a lot away in the second half, maybe four chances, but Southampton were the better team. We were the lucky team."
He added: "When you are the better team then you deserve more, but believe me that it's always the goals that are counted. [When we] played the first six or seven matches, we never won but were always the better team -- I never said anything about that."
Before the game, Van Gaal had said if they won this match they would have momentum but he conceded that, given the manner of their win, he could not be so bullish as to say that.
He added: "No, the performance was not good enough so I cannot say it. I'm sorry, because we were the lucky team this evening but maybe because we are in the moment you can say that also.
"It's fantastic to be third, but I hoped we would do it with a better performance. We are the lucky team."
Van Gaal had suggested earlier in the season that Van Persie could lose his place if he did not find his form, but he was swift to praise the striker for his match-winning performance on Monday.
"He was one of three players on the pitch for Manchester United who was good, or maybe very good, and he had a great influence on the result," he said.
"His best performance [for me this season], very pleased with his performance and his goals. The second was not so easy -- the ball was coming with his right foot and he took it on his left foot."
On De Gea's performance, the United boss said he "stopped three balls in total ... it's normal. Is that exceptional?"
Van Gaal had substituted defender Paddy McNair before the break after a troubled start to the match, and he confirmed it had been a tactical decision.
"He had not any confidence, he had already given three big chances away, and then I have to. It's very disappointing for me and also for Paddy, but I had to," he added. "As a manager I'm responsible to win and after the change we played a little bit better."
Van Persie agreed with his coach that United had been fortunate to claim the three points.
"I don't think we played our best football today," he told Sky Sports. "We were a bit sloppy here and there. We fought hard and in the end we nicked it."
He added: "It was a tough game. They have a good team so we knew what to expect, but I think it's our fifth straight victory so we are on the way up."
When asked about whether he felt sharp on the night, he said: "Yeah, I felt good. To be fair I've felt good over the last couple of weeks. Fitness-wise I think I can play 90 minutes easier and tonight I thought keep going and it will come."
Information from the Press Association was used in this report