Reading are on their way back up. After beating their title rivals last night to go top of the Championship they need – at the most – four points from their last four games to return to the Premier League. Should West Ham be frustrated by Brighton this afternoon they will need even less.
Under lights at St Mary's, Reading showed precisely how they have done it – this was another ruthless, effective performance. Out-passed for most of the game, they defended with discipline and commitment and took their chances, through Jason Roberts and Adam Le Fondre.
Sam Allardyce might preach efficiency at West Ham but Reading's Brian McDermott is the master of it. Reading did to Southampton what they have done to the Hammers and Brighton in recent weeks, standing firm against pressure and attacking in utterly clinical fashion.
"It was an incredible night," McDermott said. "You have to hang in there. These guys know how to win games. You can't just have character and desire. You have to have quality as well. Everything that's good about football is in our dressing room."
Southampton had much of the play throughout. In Adam Lallana they had the game's finest player, and he spent most of the first half directing Saints' incisive attack. Lallana had three first-half shots saved by Adam Federici, the last one a delightful chip, while Rickie Lambert and Jos Hooiveld both should have done better with free headers.
Reading's sole chance of the half went in. Jimmy Kebe's cross after 19 minutes was met at the far post by Roberts, whose emphatic header took Reading to the top of the table.
Southampton needed only three minutes of the second half to reply. Billy Sharp, who played his support role with industry and imagination, touched the ball back to Rickie Lambert, who was in more space than he should have been given. Kaspar Gorkss was not close enough to block and could only deflect his effort in.
That lifted Saints, who attacked with more confidence. Sharp played Richard Chaplow into a useful position but his shot was palmed round the corner by Federici. Nigel Adkins took Chaplow off soon after for Steve de Ridder, in pursuit of the lead, and it nearly worked: the Belgian winger's perfect cross was headed wide at the far-post by Lallana.
But on 64 minutes McDermott introduced Le Fondre, a late-goal specialist who turned a draw into a win against Leeds on Good Friday. He won the ball in midfield, played it to Kebe, ran on to the return and finished past Kelvin Davis. He had only been on the pitch for six minutes. In stoppage time he capitalised on Jose Fonte's poor header, beat Davis and scored again.
Southampton (4-4-2) Davis; Butterfield, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; Chaplow (De Ridder, 53), Cork, Hammond (Guly, 76), Lallana; Lambert, Sharp. Substitutes not used Richardson, Harding, Do Prado,
Reading (4-4-2) Federici; Cummings, Pearce, Gorkss, Harte; Kebe, Tabb (Le Fondre, 64), Mullins, McAnuff; Hunt, Roberts (Afobe, 77). Substitutes not used Gunnarsson, McCarthy, Church.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)