In the continued absence of Matt Le Tissier, the man from Viking Stavanger played the chief Saint's role for Southampton. Egil Ostenstad's 13th goal since his pounds 900,000 move was enough to haul Graeme Souness' side above both their hosts and Coventry to 15th place.
It may prove unlucky for Sunderland. The life-line they clutched last Saturday with their first win in Middlesbrough for 35 years was grasped from them by desperate rivals. For the first half an hour Southampton played with the greater urgency and, after edging ahead, they held on for three points their manager hailed as "massive."
They triumphed despite Souness' best laid plans suffering an early jolt when Claus Lundekvam dislocated a shoulder after 10 minutes, prompting an earlier than planned return of the Saints' sinner against Coventry last Saturday, Francis Benali.
Southampton eased in front 12 minutes later. After taking Alan Neilson's cross on his chest, Ostenstad produced an assured finish, curling a low shot past Lionel Perez from 12 yards out.
Not until the 34th minute did Sunderland raise the Roker roar. Jason Dodd's goal-line clearance prevented Niall Quinn from equalising with a header from Chris Waddle's right-wing corner and the angle of bar and post kept out the towering centre-forward's follow-up shot.
Maik Taylor, Southampton's inspired goalkeeper, dealt with the best Sunderland could throw at him and when the final whistle blew the Roker roar gave way to a despairing groan.
Sunderland's fate now rests on Roker's last league game, the visit of Everton on Saturday week, and on the last-day trip to Wimbledon. "We need to win the two games," Peter Reid said, unaware perhaps that Sunderland have not won successive top-flight fixtures since 1984.
Having won at all three north-east grounds now, Southampton may well have found their salvation in the region where their manager made his mark as a player. "We're building our new ground up here," was the parting shot from Souness, Boro-old-boy-turned-boss-of-the-Saints.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Perez; Hall (Russell, 83), Ord, Howey, Gray; Johnston (Quinn, 22), Williams, Bracewell, Ball, Waddle; Stewart. Substitutes not used: Rae, Eriksson, Woods (gk).
Southampton (4-4-2): Taylor; Van Gobbel; Dodd, Lundekvam (Benali, 10), Dryden (Maddison, 66); Neilson, Berkovitch (Oakley, 60), Magilton, Slater; Evans, Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Basham, Beasant (gk).
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).Reuse content