Watson 9, Oakley 13, Magilton pen 89
Derby County 1
Above all , Southampton needed to win to avoid the prospect of their traditional relegation struggle. They were in danger of forgetting how, having failed to do so since October, in which period they had lost five consecutive league matches.
It helped at The Dell yesterday that they came up against a Derby side which failed to do themselves the justice of their resilient form in the early season. They eked out the points in a rugged second half but confirmed them in the final minute when Eyal Berkovitch was up-ended in the area. Jim Magilton scored from the penalty.
The match had an electrifying start, largely thanks to defensive lapses. Three goals arrived in the space of five minutes and there could have been more both before and after this bizarre period.
Derby were swift to secure control in midfield. The danger for a Southampton defence forced into a reshuffle, both by the absence of Ulrich van Gobbel and the early departure of Richard Dryden with an injured hamstring, was obvious and no sooner had the latter hobbled off than they went behind. Ashley Ward delivered a deft header into the path of Christian Dailly, who was in the side only because the prolific Dean Sturridge was out with flu. The replacement striker kept both his head and nerve in beating Dave Beasant.
This was not something that could be said of his colleagues at the back - shorn of Paul McGrath who also had flu - barely a minute later. After Berkovitch was allowed to work his way behind the defence on the right and sent across a beautifully weighted pass, Watson's shot thundered against Russell Hoult. The keeper failed to hold the ball and Watson equalised from a sharp angle on the rebound.
In the 13th minute Derby were found wanting on the other flank. Robbie Slater made a deceptive dart into the area, reached the byline and his lovely, unchallenged chip to the far post found Matthew Oakley. Thirteen minutes gone, three goals and within five more minutes Ward, permitted space, might have done better than find the side netting with his shot.
Southampton surely now controlled the destiny of the game and Berkovitch rolled a free kick astutely to Magilton, whose shot was accurate but directed straight at Hoult. Still, Southampton were in winter slumberland at the back and only Beasant's swift work, moving across to the far post, kept out Dean Yates's header from a loping free-kick.
Given the weakened state of the defences, this was thrill-a-minute stuff. Two minutes from the break, however, Hoult matched Beasant's agility. He saved first Watson's shot and the subsequent header from Egil Ostenstad.
Derby brought on Lee Carsley and Marco Gabbiadini and had immediate cause to rue the latter's introduction. He had been on the field for less than two minutes when his foul on Neil Maddison brought a justified caution. Five minutes later, put in the clear by Darryl Powell's through- ball, he demonstrated a first touch from hell and allowed Beasant to claim the ball comfortably. Soon, he made amends with a smart turn and cross but this was slightly too high for Dailly to control his header.