Birmingham's desire to see Christophe Dugarry's name on a permanent contract became all the more intense as the World Cup-winning French striker scored two of the goals that all but guaranteed his temporary employers continued membership of the Premier League in a compelling, see-saw match against the FA Cup finalists.
The 31-year-old Bordeaux front man, said to be a target for Liverpool as he considers what to do when his short-term spell at St Andrew's finishes at the end of the season, found the net twice in the space of seven minutes as Steve Bruce's side scored three times in that period. In the rush of goals, they twice came from behind.
Trailing to an Anders Svensson goal at half-time, Birmingham drew level with only 15 minutes left when Dugarry beat Southampton's defensive wall and the goalkeeper Paul Jones with a twice-taken 20-yard free-kick. They went behind again almost immediately when Brett Ormerod slammed the ball home from 12 yards. However, Bryan Hughes restored parity two minutes later with a sidefooted volley after Geoff Horsfield, released on the right by Dugarry, had timed his pull-back to perfection.
Two minutes after that – eight minutes from the end – Dugarry struck again, arriving at the far post to meet substitute Stern John's cross with an unstoppable header for his third goal in two matches.
Birmingham's confidence had been high after their victory at Charlton on Saturday, hailed by Bruce as their best performance of the season. Before Svensson gave the Saints the lead entirely against the run of play, the home side had already created a hatful of chances.
Dugarry had looked ominously sharp. Jones, anxious to be Gordon Strachan's goalkeeper of choice for next month's FA Cup final, had to make two exceptional saves to defy the Frenchman and Hughes as Bruce's team seized the initiative. Twice, too, Robbie Savage felt he had a decent claim for a penalty.
Southampton punished Birmingham for failing to take their chances in the 26th minute as Anders Svensson ran on to James Beattie's flick and drilled the ball past Ian Bennett.
In the second half, however, Dugarry's influence steadily grew, prompting both admiration and a curious grumble from Strachan, who felt referee Steve Bennett was intimidated by the Frenchman's personality, although the Southampton manager had no specific complaint about any of City's goals.
Birmingham need a point from three games to put themselves out of reach, assuming West Ham drop no further points. "You can't say you are safe until you actually are," Bruce said. "But it would take a Devon Loch for us not to be now."
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett 6; Kenna 6 (Devlin 5, 64), Cunningham 7, Upson 6, Clapham 7; D Johnson 5 (John, 79), Savage 7, Clemence 7 (Lazaridis 5, 54), Hughes 7; Horsfield 6, Dugarry 9. Substitutes not used: Marriott (gk), Purse.
Southampton (4-4-2): Jones 7; Telfer 6, Lundekvam 7, M Svensson 6, Bridge 5; Fernandes 5 (Higginbotham 6, 76), Delap 5 (Ormerod 7, h-t), Oakley 8, Prutton 7; A Svensson 6, Beattie 6. Substitutes not used: Blayney (gk), Williams, Tessem.
Referee: S Bennett (Orpington) 6.
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