If Southampton fail to win promotion to the Premier League this season, their rivals may have Bristol City to thank.
Saints remain top of the Championship despite their first home defeat of the season, but they have dropped six points against Derek McInnes's side, who continued their rise away from the bottom three last night thanks to a goal 11 minutes from time from Stephen Pearson.
A hard-working team performance and some determined defending by City produced one of the shock results of the season so far. They beat Saints 2-0 at Ashton Gate on November 26, but had not won since, while Southampton were defending an unbeaten home league record in 2011 of 21 wins in 23 games – though they have now won only one of the past three matches here.
City looked sharper from the off, and even when Southampton managed to get players into shooting positions, Adam Lallana and Guly Do Prado wanted too much time. It took a long-range drive by Morgan Schneiderlin to draw the first save of the evening from David James after 27 minutes.
James was in action again after 33 minutes, blocking Steve De Ridder's shot after Ryan McGivern's error had allowed him a run into the penalty area. When the ball rebounded to the Dutch winger, he could not pick out a team-mate, which was the story of his night.
Southampton needed one of the half-time tactical adjustments that have brought so many victories at St Mary's, but instead they had a scare when Nicky Maynard, linked with Southampton among others, netted the rebound after a parry by Kelvin Davis, only to flagged offside. And there was another after 73 minutes when only Davis's fingertips prevented Pearson slipping the ball into the far corner.
City kept Rickie Lambert quiet until the 76th minute, when Saints' top scorer chested the ball down with his back to goal and hit a volley on the turn that sent James full length to save. But it did not herald a breakthrough for the home side. Two minutes later, City substitute Neil Kilkenny swerved in a shot that Davis could not hold, and although he blocked Maynard's follow-up, he could not stop Pearson netting the winner from four yards.
Southampton: (4-4-2): Davis; Richardson (Holmes 88), Martin, Hooiveld, Fox; De Ridder, Schneiderlin (Hammond 78), Cork, Lallana (Connolly 77); Do Prado, Lambert.
Bristol City: (4-1-3-2): James; Wilson, Carey, Nyataga, McGivern; Cisse (Kilkenny 65); Skuse, Elliott, Pearson (Woolford 86); Adomah (Clarkson 90), Maynard.
Referee: D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).