The struggle for the unofficial title of Best of the Rest - well worth having, given that it also entails a Champions' League place - took another twist here yesterday as Fulham returned to fourth place at the expense of the side which had usurped them six days earlier.
It is 56 years since Southampton won at Fulham, and despite their healthy altitude in the Premiership this season, the visitors looked as if they could play for a similar span without getting any closer to the desired result.
What looked on paper like a hugely challenging task turned out to be a jog in the park for Chris Coleman's men, who simply overran their opposition.
The key area was in midfield, where Steed Malbranque - why aren't Manchester United more interested in him instead of Louis Saha? - and Lee Clark established such dominance that they were able to free Saha and Luis Boa Morte to maraud at will.
The sides were separated by two goals from the man who has been dreaming out loud about a move to Old Trafford recently. But Coleman was adamant afterwards that Saha would not be going anywhere in a hurry.
After challenging a questioner who maintained that Saha had said it would be his dream to join Manchester United, Coleman commented: "Yeah, eventually, maybe. But he's got two years to go on his contract and he'll be staying here at least up to the end of the season.''
Setting aside the question of the Frenchman's ultimate destination, Coleman felt free to praise his lone striker after a performance which enabled Fulham to recover their upward mobility on the back of successive defeats. Saha's first goal, after 19 minutes, came from a wicked cross-shot after Malbranque had sent him clear of the Southampton defence following a smart exchange of passes with Clark. The decisive goal arrived via the penalty spot in the 63rd minute following a foul on Boa Morte by Chris Marsden.
"Louis has got everything," Coleman said. "He's strong in the air, he's got two good feet and he's brave. This season he is fulfilling his potential and scoring goals at the top level. I think he's playing the best football of his life."
Far from having to sell Saha when the transfer window opens next month, Coleman maintains that his chairman has given him enough money to bring players in the other direction.
"We haven't got millions to spend but we need a bit more strength in depth and hopefully we can bring some players in. We are more attractive than we were six months ago. It's a bit of everything - the fact that we're going back to Craven Cottage next season, and we're fourth, and we're playing good football."
Having returned to Europe this season following their achievement in reaching the FA Cup final, Southampton are also looking in a generally healthy state. But their manager, Gordon Strachan, was a pained figure as he reflected upon a defeat that brought to an end a run of three successive victories.
"Today we were beaten by a far better side," he said. "I was surprised by the way we played. Normally what we have got is energy, heart and all the rest of it. But today we seemed unable to pass the ball 10 yards.
"I counted 15 occasions when we gave the ball away in the middle of the park, which means there are 15 more attacks we have to deal with.'' Strachan continues to claim that his side are a "middle-of-the-table team''. Unless they perform to a higher standard that this, his prediction looks likely to be correct.
Goals: Saha (19) 1-0; Saha pen (63) 2-0.
Fulham (4-5-1): Van der Sar 7; Volz 7, Knight 7, Goma 7, Bonnissel 6 (Harley 6, 22); Boa Morte 8, Inamoto 6, Djetou 6, Clark 7, Malbranque 8; Saha 8. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Melville, Sava, Hayles.
Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi 8; Dodd 7, Lundekvam 6, M Svensson 5, Higginbotham 4; Telfer 4, Prutton 6, Marsden 5, McCann 4 (Delgado 3, 73); Beattie 5, Ormerod 4 (Phillips 6, 50). Substitutes not used: Blayney (gk), A Svensson, Baird.
Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire) 7.
Bookings: Southampton: M Svensson, Prutton.
Man of the match: Malbranque.
Attendance: 16,767.Reuse content