Stephen Pearson's goal was enough to settle a game of few chances and it is his team's relative diffidence in attack that will have worried the Southampton manager, Nigel Adkins, as the Saints gather themselves for a sustained push towards back-to-back promotions. West Ham, three points behind the league leaders, play on Saturday.
"We had enough opportunities to win the game," Adkins said afterwards. "We've had a great year but tonight we couldn't finish it off. I expect a positive reaction. We keep our standards high. We want to play the right way. We've led the division for a long time because we did the right things and we need to keep on doing them."
In the minutes leading up to kick-off the walkways around St Mary's Stadium were thronged with a pub-pickled surge of last-minute punters and from the start this was a notably boisterous night in the south coast drizzle. For all that, it was the visitors who looked more at home in the opening minutes in an adventurous 4-1-3-2 formation. The home crowd had to be content with a couple of powerful surges down the right by Steve De Ridder, plus the consolation of taunting David James in the City goal, who according to 5,000 supporters behind his goal stinks of fish — apparently a consequence of his spell at Portsmouth.
With Adkins already out waggling his arms in exasperation during the opening exchanges, it took 27 minutes for Morgan Schneiderlin to register the first shot on goal, the Frenchman letting fly from 25 yards only for James to leap and tip over his bar.
City looked dangerous at times: on the half-hour Nicky Maynard's flick put Albert Adomah in on goal but his snap shot was palmed away by Kelvin Davis. Daniel Fox then had the best chance of the half, pulling his left-foot volley from a Ricky Lambert cross wide of goal from 10 yards.
The Bristol City manger, Derek McInnes, will have been by far the happier manager at half-time as City staunched the league leaders' characteristic surges down the flanks. They began brightly after the break, too: on 53 minutes Maynard had the ball in the net after Davis palmed out Kalifa Cissé's drive but was flagged offside. It must have been by a toenail and McInnes was adamant afterwards that the linesman had made a mistake.
Southampton gradually asserted a shadow of their table-topping gravitas, with both De Ridder and Adam Lallana finding space on the wings. One scampering burst by De Ridder saw him leave Ryan McGivern in a heap after an arrayof matador turns but his cross was aimless.
With 20 minutes remaining St Mary's good cheer had turned to frustration at some perceived time-wasting by City. In fact the visitors were simply comfortable, able to pass the ball through midfield with an ease that will have worried Adkins. This is not the moment for promotion chasers to feel the pace.
On 75 minutes a neat pass from Marvin Elliott put Pearson in on goal but Davis clawed his low shot away. And three minutes later Pearson scored, finishing neatly as Davis again parried, this time spilling a low Neil Kilkenny shot and saving well from Maynard, before being beaten at the third attempt. Thereafter Southampton huffed and even conjured a couple of half chances. But this was City's night as they completed a rare double over the league leaders in the space of five weeks.
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