Stoke City 3 Southampton 2: Stoke's charge unhindered by John double

Three goals from corners in 19 first-half minutes have lifted Stoke City another place towards regaining the top-flight status they last occupied in 1985. There wasn't much to spare at the end of an exhilarating contest, though, as Southampton compensated for their inadequate defending by producing a comeback of such intensity that it could have salvaged a point or even three.

Stern John's two quick-fire goals were only the tip of the second-half iceberg, the same player going close three times and Jason Euell twice while Andrew Surman's deflected shot bounced just wide with Steve Simonsen wrong-footed.

Southampton, under caretaker management and lurching towards relegation danger, fully tested opponents who nevertheless finished strongly for their third successive victory and now have two more home games in which to build on their newly-acquired third spot.

"Because of the position Southampton are in, you can underestimate the players they have," said Stoke's manager Tony Pulis, linked in some quarters with the St Mary's post. "In the first half, we could have had more than three, then it was all hands to the pump and a question of holding our nerve."

The evening was another triumph for Stoke's well-documented set-piece expertise with Rory Delap, in his 400th senior game, delivering four long throws before Liam Lawrence got to work with his corners.

In the 26th minute, Ryan Shawcross's shot was blocked by Kelvin Davis but Darren Powell's panicky attempt at a clearance sent the loose ball into his own net.

Lawrence switched to the right to deliver the follow-up balls from which Shawcross and Mamady Sidibe climbed well to power home headers; the centre-half's eighth goal of the season and the striker's first.

Southampton had earlier threatened when Jhon Viafara blazed over after Simonsen's punch rebounded invitingly to him and they subsequently played the best football of the night.

Eleven seconds after half-time, John despatched a magnificent 25-yard left-foot volley and the same player controlled Jermaine Wright's through ball to drive in again in the 54th minute – his fourth goal in three games. Although Stoke regained some composure, Saints can take heart despite a run of one win in 11 League games.

"We went to pieces up to half-time and then produced a wonderful effort," said Southampton's acting joint manager John Gorman. "We deserved something."

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Grissim, Shawcross, Cort, Pugh; Lawrence (Zakuani, 87), Diao, Whelan, Delap; Sidibe, Fuller. Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Parkin, Gallagher, Pericard.

Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Ostlund, Powell, Davies (Wright-Phillips, 80), Wright; Viafara, Idiakez (McGoldrick, 88), Euell, Surman; Saganowski, John. Substitutes not used: Hammill, Lallana, James (gk).

Referee: N Miller (County Durham).