Graham Potter arrived at St Mary's knowing failure to emerge on the winning side would leave his Brighton side very much trapped in a relegation battle. However, he left his former employers with a huge smile on his face with a priceless victory. They remain three points clear of Fulham who occupy the final relegation place but the Seagulls possess the superior goal difference out of the two of them as well as Newcastle United.
Despite the Seagulls' abject form of late, they arrived on the South Coast up against a Saints side who had shipped in 24 league goals in their last eight league games coming into today's clash so they certainly would have fancied their chances in front of the goal and the opportunities they could conjure up.
After Neal Maupay saw his effort superbly repelled by Fraser Forster, Lewis Dunk gave the visitors a priceless lead from the resulting corner from Pascal Groß, with the assertive centre half afforded the freedom of Southampton’s penalty box and subsequently powering his header into the bottom right corner to give his side the perfect start.
However, Dunk suddenly became the villain at the other end which culminated in the Saints' equaliser. Ryan Bertrand's header was headed backwards by the Brighton defender, and the ball was gratefully received by Che Adams, deputising for Danny Ings, to volley first time past Robert Sanchez. It was Southampton desparately needed after being shaken by Dunk's opener after a good start and they looked hungrier and sharper following Adams' seventh league goal of the season.
"It feels really good. That was a proper performance; I thought the first half was even. We were disappointed with the goal we conceded which wasn't good enough but it was an all-round good performance especially with the quality of the second goal. It's always nice to score and help the team out but my job is to keep clean sheets and we were frustrated we were unable to do that today." said Dunk whose header was his fourth league goal so far this season.
Brighton perhaps felt they deserved more for their first half efforts which saw them pegged back but they started the second half with real energy like they did for the majority of the first half and they took full advantage through Leandro Trossard. A good move from the centre of the park saw the Belgian finish empathetically past Forster after a superb lay-off from Danny Welbeck, who cut an isolated figure in the first half.
It was a huge moment for Potter and his side, although they survived a scare when Adams had the opportunity for his brace but saw his close-range effort blocked when the striker really should have equalised but the Seagulls were full value for their victory.
Nobody will have been a more relieved man than Potter. "I thought it was a deserved victory", reaffirmed the Seagulls boss. "Full credit to the players. We lost Dan [Burn] at half-time with a tight hamstring and we had to still adapt and I thought we did it really well. The second half was a really good goal and when we had to defend, you have to defend against a team that has a huge personality and intensity, but overall so proud of the players."
Irrespective of the Saints' poor form, this triumph will have been music to Potter's ears, delivering the ultimate knockout blow to Scott Parker and Steve Bruce in the process. Potter knows today will have been a gigantic step in the right direction but will also be firmly aware there’s a long way to go in the fight for survival. After their clash against Newcastle, the Seagulls face trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge in April, with a final day trip to the Emirates Stadium. Their mettle will certainly be tested in more ways than one.