FOR the second time in less than three weeks Southampton left Yorkshire with three points to continue what, come the end of next month, will surely be confirmed as a journey back towards the Premier League.
However, unlike their rather fortuitous 1-0 win at Leeds United a couple of weekends ago, there was no doubt Nigel Adkins’s men were full value for the points on their visit to the East Riding.
Against a Hull City side who had conceded just three goals in their previous 11 outings, the Saints looked every inch a champion outfit.
The all-important goals came in each half, Tigers defender Jack Hobbs putting through his own net on 14 minutes before Jos Hooiveld settled matters just before the hour.
Adam Lallana should also have got his name on the scoresheet with the Saints midfielder being guilty of a first-half miss that must rank among the worst of the season.
For all that, however, Hull can still seek solace in playing their part in an entertaining contest with Josh King, in particular, causing the Championship leaders all manner of problems.
Not only did the on-loan Manchester United forward bring a stunning save from goalkeeper Kelvin Davis and clip the crossbar with a fierce effort during the first half but he also created a chance that Robbie Brady really should have converted.
Results elsewhere also largely went for Nick Barmby’s men, Birmingham City and Leeds United slumping to shock defeats as Middlesbrough were held to a draw by West Ham United – meaning any damage from Hull’s 11-game unbeaten run ending was limited.
Southampton underlined why they have spent all season in the top two in an early onslaught that saw Vito Mannone twice called into action inside the opening 10 minutes to deny Ricky Lambert and then Lallana.
Both were fine reflex saves that deservedly drew applause from the home fans.
The Hull goalkeeper was, however, unable to do anything to prevent the Saints going ahead on 14 minutes courtesy of a well-crafted move.
A deft pass down the left flank by Lallana for Daniel Fox created the opening, the pace of the ball allowing the full-back to skip past Liam Rosenior before rolling a pass towards Lambert at the back post.
With the Championship’s top scorer breathing down his neck, Hobbs had no alternative but to try to clear the danger.
In attempting to put the ball behind, however, the Tigers captain could only find the corner of the net.
An uncharacteristic mistake by the normally reliable Paul McKenna then presented the Saints with a golden chance to double their advantage just two minutes later as possession was presented to Morgan Schneiderlin.
He, in turn, quickly looked up before rolling a delightful pass for Lallana to latch on to and skip past the on-rushing Mannone.
A goal seemed certain only for a bobble to suddenly lead to the ball jumping off the turf at the vital moment and Lallana was left red-faced as his shot flew high and wide.
It was a major let-off for Hull, whose response was as immediate as it was impressive to ensure the balance of play soon switched in their favour.
King was the catalyst for the turnaround with a fierce shot that clipped the top of the crossbar before the Old Trafford loanee then set up Brady with what seemed a simple tap-in.
Unfortunately, King’s Premier League clubmate was unable to capitalise and his shot flew over the crossbar from eight yards out.
Robbie Koren was the next to threaten with a swift turn and shot that the Saints’ defence did well to block before the first half finished in a similar vein as King’s intended cross for Matty Fryatt was cut out.
The hope among the Hull fans in the 18,066 crowd as their team left the field to a deserved ovation was that more of the same would bring reward after the break.
Instead, the Saints showed their class to reassert their authority as the home side switched to 4-4-2 in the absence of Koren who damaged a hamstring.
The visitors duly doubled their lead just before the hour when a slick passing move ended with Jose Fonte rolling a pass for Hooiveld to convert from close range. For Hull, the game was up but, after overcoming the initial shock at conceding twice, they did at least finish strongly to put the visitors’ goal under pressure in the final 10 minutes.
First, King hit a low drive that Davis did well to turn behind. From the resulting corner, the ball was cleared to Tom Cairney who fired a ferocious 20-yard drive that the Saints goalkeeper again kept out at full stretch.
David then made it a hat-trick of saves in the closing stages to keep out Cameron Stewart and ensure Southampton claimed their third win in four visits to Yorkshire this season.
Hull City: Mannone; Rosenior, Chester, Hobbs, Dawson; McKenna (Evans 63), Cairney; King, Koren (Mclean 46), Brady (Stewart 70); Fryatt. Unused substitutes: Gulacsi, Dudgeon.
Southampton: Davis; Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox (Harding 79); Puncheon (Hammond 63), Schneiderlin, Cork, Lallana; Lambert, Do Prado (De Ridder 51), Lambert. Unused substitutes: Sharp, Martin.
Referee: D Webb (County Durham).
Hull City striker Dele Adebola has joined League One side Notts County on loan for the rest of the season.
The veteran, signed last summer, last featured for the Tigers against Southampton in November.
Last night’s results and latest tables: Page 22.