Marcus Tavernier’s second-half strike condemned Southampton to a tenth 1-0 defeat of the season, as Bournemouth moved within touching distance of securing Premier League survival at St Mary’s.
A breathless first quarter of the game was followed by a rather drab three-quarters, as Saints struggled to create chances after going close twice early on through Theo Walcott and Adam Armstrong.
Forced to withdraw skipper James Ward-Prowse at half time, the hosts fell behind five minutes later when Tavernier was afforded too much time to cut inside and shoot low into the far corner to give Bournemouth the south-coast bragging rights.
There was plenty of time for a Saints revival, and substitute Ché Adams thought he’d levelled the scores in the 89th minute, only for VAR to intervene and leave Saints six points adrift of safety with five games to play.
Rubén Sellés made two changes to his starting line-up, including a first Premier League start of the season for Alex McCarthy in goal, as Gavin Bazunu’s ever-present streak came to an end on matchday 33.
Elsewhere, Jan Bednarek was fit to continue at centre-back after being forced off with a concussion scare at Arsenal, this time partnered by his replacement on the night, Duje Ćaleta-Car, with Armel Bella-Kotchap making way.
It may not be a derby game but it certainly started like one, as a vibrant atmosphere welcomed a high-octane opening.
When Roméo Lavia dispossessed Joe Rothwell in midfield, Mohamed Elyounoussi threaded a pass through for Walcott, who turned inside Lloyd Kelly and fired low, but his left-footed shot lacked the authority of the right foot that gave Saints a 2-0 lead at the Emirates Stadium last time out, and goalkeeper Neto made a sprawling save.
At the other end, McCarthy’s first act was to lose his footing on a wet pitch, inviting Dominic Solanke to close him down, but the ball ran out for a goal kick.
Bournemouth’s first notable attack actually arrived from a Saints corner. The visitors broke quickly through Tavernier, who jinked inside Ward-Prowse only to see his shot blocked by Ćaleta-Car.
Back came Saints, as Armstrong’s clever pass released Romain Perraud, but the Frenchman’s first touch took him wide, away from goal.
In the end Perraud did well to keep the chance alive as he pulled the ball back into Armstrong’s path, as the striker swivelled in the box to shoot low towards the near post, forcing another early save from Neto.
It seemed a matter of time until the opening goal, and Bournemouth did have the ball in the net after 18 minutes, only for the offside flag to save Saints.
It was Solanke who escaped straight through the middle, initially thwarted by McCarthy, before Matías Viña swept in the rebound. There didn’t look to be much in it, but Solanke was just leaning beyond Bednarek, and the on-field decision to disallow the goal stood up to the VAR check.
What followed was an April shower of epic proportions, as the rain hammered down on the St Mary’s roof, but Saints responded by going close themselves when Kyle Walker-Peters’s cross was met by a looping header from defender Marcos Senesi that dropped on to Neto’s crossbar with the keeper watching on in hope.
There may have been plenty at stake but here were two sides happy to take risks and commit players forward in a very watchable first half.
Solanke was causing problems down Saints’ inside-right channel, setting up Philip Billing to blaze over with a free shot from 20 yards, before Solanke’s neat one-two in the box led to a decent chance the striker fired into the Chapel Stand.
The breathless opening 25 minutes had to slow down at some point, and the rest of the half was rather more subdued, not helped by a lengthy stoppage due to an injury to Perraud.
It came about in innocuous circumstances. Sprinting to head a crossfield pass back to McCarthy drew widespread applause, but did damage when the left-back landed awkwardly on his ankle.
He did attempt to soldier on, but from the visitors’ next attack the Frenchman dropped to the turf, off the ball, and unable to continue, as Ainsley Maitland-Niles entered the fray and Walker-Peters switched to the left flank.
Sellés was forced into a second change at the interval – the last one he wanted to make – as Ward-Prowse was withdrawn, presumably with a fitness issue, as Lyanco came on to play at right-back and Maitland-Niles moved into midfield.
It would take only five minutes for Bournemouth to take advantage of Saints missing their captain, so rarely absent, as Tavernier struck the opener early in the second half.
Released by Solanke down the right, the winger was afforded too much time inside the penalty area to manouvre the ball on to his stronger left foot, hitting a low shot that beat McCarthy down to his right courtesy of a slight but decisive deflection.
Buoyed by edging in front, the Cherries grew in confidence, passing their way into a similar position from which Billing’s effort deflected wide.
Sellés responded with substitutes three and four on the hour mark, as Stuart Armstrong and Adams replaced Mohamed Elyounoussi and Walcott, with Saints in need of a response.
The game remained in the balance but the hosts seemed to be lacking belief, as Sellés introduced Kamaldeen Sulemana in his final change 15 minutes from time, still with hope of inspiring a late revival.
Saints thought there would be time to chase a winner after Adams combined with fellow Scot Armstrong and fired in off the underside of the crossbar on the brink of stoppage time, but he was offside by a toe, and Bournemouth were able to see out five added minutes.
Southampton: Alex McCarthy, Kyle Walker-Peters, Jan Bednarek, Duje Ćaleta-Car, Romain Perraud (Ainsley Maitland-Niles 36), Mohamed Elyounoussi (Stuart Armstrong 61), Roméo Lavia, James Ward-Prowse (c) (Lyanco 45), Adam Armstrong (Kamaldeen Sulemana 76), Theo Walcott (Ché Adams 61), Carlos Alcaraz.
Unused subs: Gavin Bazunu, Joe Aribo, Moussa Djenepo, Sékou Mara.
Bournemouth: Neto (c), Chris Mepham, Lloyd Kelly, Marcos Senesi (Illia Zabarnyi 68), Joe Rothwell, Marcus Tavernier (Adam Smith 78), Matías Viña, Jefferson Lerma, Dominic Solanke (Kieffer Moore 93), Ryan Christie, Philip Billing (Dango Ouattara 93)
Unused subs: Mark Travers, Lewis Cook, David Brooks, Jaidon Anthony, Antoine Semenyo.