Plucky Saints were edged out of a hard fought opening game at Anfield with a 2-1 defeat.
Four of the previous league matches played between these two teams on Merseyside have been decided by the odd goal, and on this showing there was little to choose again, as Liverpool struck an 80th minute winner to secure all three points.
Saints, who were only one of two teams to win at Anfield in the league last season, looked good value to take something back to the south coast from this game despite falling behind to a 23rd minute strike from Raheem Sterling.
After the breakthrough goal, Saints dominated for long spells, with their 56th minute equaliser through Nathaniel Clyne, a just reward.
Daniel Sturridge’s late effort at the far post shattered those aspirations of taking a point, though Saints went mighty close to wrestling something back off Liverpool late on when Morgan Schneiderlin’s fierce strike hit the crossbar.
It means that Saints have still only ever won two of their previous Premier League opening games since the competition began in 1992.
Fraser Forster, Ryan Bertrand, Dušan Tadić, and Graziano Pellè all started their first league games for Southampton, with fellow new boys Shane Long and Saphir Taïder named amongst the substitutes.
Florin Gardos was the only one of Saints’ summer signings not included in the travelling party as the defender continues to work on his fitness before making his Premier League bow.
Liverpool named former Saint Dejan Lovren in their starting eleven, with Rickie Lambert on the hosts’ bench.
In a lively opening to the contest, Brendan Rodgers’ side applied the pressure with the best of the early chances, with England pair Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson each firing shots from distance over the bar.
The Reds got closer by testing Forster in the 20th minute with Raheem Sterling denied after Philippe Coutinho fed him inside the area.
The deadlock was broken however just three minutes later, with Sterling not to be kept out a second time as he collected Jordan Henderson’s defence splitting pass, and kept his composure to roll the ball into the bottom right corner of Forster’s goal.
Saints responded well to that setback, and ended the first half on top with Ward-Prowse twice drawing fine saves from Simon Mignolet, though the Belgian ‘keeper saved his best stop for stoppage time when he sprang across his line to tip Morgan Schneiderlin’s bending strike towards the top corner.
Liverpool offered one further scare at the end of the opening 45 when Sterling drove a shot that was palmed into the air by Forster, with Saints still very much in the game heading into the break.
Buoyed by that spirited end to the half, Ronald Koeman’s men upped the tempo, and were rewarded with an equaliser eleven minutes after the restart.
It came from an unlikely source too, as Nathaniel Clyne completed a neat one-two with Tadić, with the Serbian cleverly flicking the ball into the path of the full-back who smashed a rising shot in at the near post for 1-1.
Saints undeniably grew in confidence from the goal and twice went close to taking the lead through Steven Davis, with the Northern Irishman’s latter effort easily saved by Mignolet from close range.
Shortly after Morgan Schneiderlin had gone into the book, the visitors went close again on 68 minutes in what would have been a repeat of the equalising goal, but a well-timed block on both Clyne and then Pellè in quick succession stopped the visitors once more.
Liverpool were looking vulnerable at the time when Saints made their first change of the game on 73 minutes with Shane Long introduced for Tadić, as the visitors eyed an opportunity to press for all three points.
The hosts responded by bringing on former Saints man Rickie Lambert hosts in place of Coutinho and the England striker almost had a dream first touch when facing the goal inside the six yard area, but was blocked.
Lambert’s presence on the field inspired Liverpool though, as the Reds regained their advantage with ten minutes remaining. Sterling nodded the ball into the path of Sturridge at the far post and the striker completed a simple tap-in to make it 2-1.
Undeterred by that bolt from the blue, Koeman threw Lloyd Isgrove into his attacking options late on, with Steven Davis making way for the Welshman, whose pace gave Martin Skrtel a fresh challenge to deal with in the closing stages.
Isgrove won an early battle to secure a throw-in which he guided into the path of Pellè, with Ward-Prowse the beneficiary of that knock down, but Mignolet was equal to the shot.
Saints piled on the pressure and went unbelievably close to levelling the scores again with two minutes remaining when Schneiderlin’s shot smacked the crossbar and bounced down off the line, before Long headed wide from the follow up.
It was a nervy final four minutes of time added on for the hosts, but they held out for a victory that provided much relief around the stadium.
Liverpool team: Simon Mignolet, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Javier Manquillo, Lucas (Joe Allen 63), Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard (c), Philippe Coutinho (Rickie Lambert 76), Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge. Unused substitutes: Brad Jones, Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho, Emre Can, Jordon Ibe.
Goals: Sterling (23), Sturridge (80)
Booking: Manquillo (34)
Southampton team: Fraser Forster, Nathaniel Clyne, José Fonte (c), Maya Yoshida, Ryan Bertrand, Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin, Steven Davis (Lloyd Isgrove 82), James Ward-Prowse, Dušan Tadić (Shane Long 73), Graziano Pellè. Unused substitutes: Kelvin Davis, Saphir Taïder, Jack Cork, Jos Hooiveld, Jack Stephens.
Goal: Clyne (56)
Booked: Schneiderlin (65), S.Davis (78)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg