West Bromwich Albion surged into fifth place in the Premier League on Monday night on the back of a 2-0 victory over Southampton.
Peter Odemwingie was the star of the show with both goals as Southampton were again left to rue their defensive deficiencies.
Saints have now conceded 28 goals in their opening ten games of the season and the outlook is bleak as they gaze up at the rest of the Premier League, while West Brom will be wondering just how much further they can progress.
Steve Clarke made three changes to his West Brom side from the defeat at Newcastle last time out, bringing in Billy Jones for Gabriel Tamas at right-back after he recovered from injury. Summer signing Claudio Yacob also returned to the team following a hamstring problem and his presence shored up the midfield in the absence of the injured James Morrison, while Shane Long was preferred to on-loan Romelu Lukaku up front.
For Southampton, the back four was unchanged despite a terrible defensive record but Paulo Gazzaniga was drafted back in between the posts as Artur Boruc was left out, amid an internal investigation after allegedly throwing a water bottle into the crowd during the home league game with Tottenham 10 days ago. Record signing Gaston Ramirez provided Nigel Adkins with a major boost after returning from a five-week lay-off at the expense of Jason Puncheon.
West Brom stuck with the system that has served them well all season, with a strong defence further reinforced by the disciplined, hard-working duo of Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob in central midfield. Long operates as the lone front man but he is far from isolated, with Odemwingie providing admirable support and Graham Dorrans and Zoltan Gera also creative influences.
Nigel Adkins again stayed true to the attacking philosophy that has served him so well since taking charge of Southampton, but they were surprisingly blunt up front at The Hawthorns as the front two were starved of service and Adam Lallana and Ramirez struggled to make an impression. Despite working hard, Saints remain too open and were again made to pay for individual errors.
The changes had little impact on this game as they all came after Odemwingie had made it 2-0 on the hour mark. The introductions of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Brunt freshened things up for West Brom and both players helped them keep control in the latter stages. Southampton substitute Guly had a chance moments after coming on but headed wide, while Nigel Adkins's final switch was to give a Premier League debut to 17-year-old full-back Luke Shaw - a player destined for a bright future if reports are to be believed.
Mark Halsey was a largely anonymous figure in a clean game and issued just one yellow card, but there were a couple of tough decisions which Southampton will feel he got wrong. Odemwingie appeared to handle the ball in the build-up to his opening goal and could have conceded a free-kick, while Halsey also waved play on when Adam Lallana went down in the area under pressure from Jonas Olsson late on. Replays suggested it was a clumsy challenge that may have resulted in a penalty, although Lallana himself barely appealed.
Odemwingie was the match-winner for West Brom but it was not just his goals that caught the eye. He was always willing to shoot or take on his defender and posed problems for Southampton throughout with his movement as he came in from the right. Odemwingie was slightly fortunate with his opener as it took a crucial nick off Maya Yoshida, but he showed great energy to get up in support of Shane Long for the second goal and gave a delightful cross the finish it deserved with a well-placed header.
Nathaniel Clyne was caught out defensively at times for Southampton but still showed the pace to get himself out of trouble with a couple of important last-ditch tackles. He also got forward well from full-back and provided the odd moment of danger to an otherwise very secure West Brom side.
Clarke admitted after the game that West Brom had not been at their fluent best, and he will be pleased to still come away with a victory. The Baggies look like a very well-oiled machine with a good balance between attack and defence and they should be confident of continuing their good run. A European challenge may not be in their sights just yet but no team will relish a trip to The Hawthorns and the fixture list does not look too bad in the lead-up to Christmas.
The next month or two could also prove to be a defining period for Southampton and the pressure will only build on Adkins until results start improving. It will be interesting to see whether the manager adjusts his approach to focus more on defending, with Swansea travelling to St Mary's on Saturday and a clash with fellow strugglers Queens Park Rangers to follow a week later.