The long wait for the first away points of the campaign came to an end with a display which fully merited all three points for Nigel Adkins’ men.
First half goals from Rickie Lambert and Jason Puncheon appeared to knock the stuffing out of the hosts who looked well beaten ahead of the second 45 minutes with Saints good value for their advantage.
A spirited start after the interval saw Rangers claw a goal back through Junior Hoilett’s header, and although there were some nervy moments thereafter, Saints settled the affair inside the last ten minutes of play when Morgan Schneiderlin’s low cross was deflected in via Anton Ferdinand’s ankles.
The first top flight meeting between the two sides in 16 years saw Saints lift themselves to within a point of safety, with Rangers now cast adrift at the foot of the table.
QPR: Cesar, Diakite (Derry 71), Traore, Ferdinand, Cisse, Taarabt, Granero, Nelsen, Bosingwa (Fabio 73), Hoilett, Faurlin (Mackie 46). Subs (not used): Green, Wright-Phillips, Dyer, Ehmer.
Saints: Gazzaniga, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw (Fox 74), Puncheon, Schneiderlin, Cork, Lallana, Ramírez (S. Davis 61), Lambert (Rodriguez 90). Subs (not used): K. Davis, Hooiveld, Ward-Prowse, Mayuka.
Referee: Mike Dean
Attendance: 18,174 (including 3,203 away)
Nigel Adkins named an unchanged team from the side that held Swansea at St Mary's last time out, with Paulo Gazzaniga keeping his place in goal.
Hosts QPR got the match underway with Saints defending the end housing the 3,000 strong travelling fans on a mild afternoon in West London.
The away supporters were in fine voice from the whistle, whilst there was more than a hint of apprehension amongst the home crowd who were yet to see Mark Hughes’s side win this season.
Saints showed plenty of intent early on as they enjoyed plenty of possession inside their opponent’s half in the opening exchanges with Morgan Schneiderlin and Luke Shaw both ably assisting the front line with impressive challenges to win the ball back for the visitors.
The best of the early promise from Saints was epitomised in a fantastic flowing move in the seventh minute which resulted in Gaston Ramirez flicking the ball cleverly into the path of Lallana who volleyed narrowly over the top left frame of Julio Cesar’s goal.
A minute later, the visitors stepped up the pressure and when Jason Puncheon’s dangerous cross into the middle, Lallana saw his lunging effort agonisingly come back off the post with Cesar beaten.
Undeterred by the near misses, Adkins’ men regained their hold on possession of the ball, but they were almost undone by Adel Taarabt’s menacing run down the left side as he forced Gazzaniga into a strong save at his near post.
The chance woke Rangers up with Junior Hoilett then making Gazzaniga work again to push an effort wide of the far post, but again the Saints defence held firm from the resulting corner.
On 21 Saints nearly found a way through when Lallana poked a ball across the area, but Ryan Nelsen was there to sweep away the danger.
But that proved to be the warning sign as a minute later the visitors broke the deadlock. A corner worked back across goal by Raimrez picked out Fonte, whose shot was deflected towards goal by Puncheon and although Anton Ferdinand cleared from the line, Rickie LAMBERT was there inside the six yard box to head home a vital first goal of the game.
Lambert was challenged on the line by Samba Diakite and required treatment, but the striker was fine to continue as the celebrations took hold at the school end.
On the half hour QPR won a free-kick midway inside the Saints half, but a poor kick from Taarabt saw the ball come off the wall of red shirts, creating another break for the visitors, which this time saw Cesar worked from a corner won by Puncheon.
The visitors continued to look the more assured side with everything they did from defence to attack, and threatened again when Cork cut in from the left to test Cesar from distance.
A further break from Ramirez as play entered the final five minutes of the half unfortunately came to nothing, although Saints were let off the hook when Esteban Granero forged an opening at the other end, only to fire wide of Gazzaniga’s right post.
Diakite continued to pose a threat for the hosts but there was little else to cheer for the home side whose woes were compounded on the stroke of half time when PUNCHEON, on his 200th career league start rattled in a sublime second goal for Saints. The winger collected the ball on the edge of the area from Clyne’s knock back to fire a low shot into the bottom corner for a deserved 2-0 lead at the break.
Half Time: QPR 0-2 Saints
Rangers made one change at the break with Jamie Mackie on in place of Alejandro Faurlin. The substitute was eager to make an impression as he broke quickly in the first attack of the half down the right, but his cross evaded his fellow teammates, although the crowd responded well to his impact.
At the other end, Jose Fonte headed narrowly wide before Rangers attempted to hit back again when a Taarabt cross set up Djibril Cisse for an ambitious shot on the turn which Gazzaniga saved well.
But Rangers did reduce the deficit when Taarabt’s crossed from the left this time, and HOILETT found plenty of space to nod home inside the area to give the hosts hope.
Frustratingly, the 48th minute strike brought the game to life again, although an already open contest now had more urgency about it from the home side.
Lambert warmed Cesar’s hands from range on the back of a strong retaliation from the visitors who attempted to restore their control on possession with some patient approach from the back.
Steven Davis replaced the tiring Ramirez on 61 minutes, with Saints sensing they probably required a third goal to make the game safe. They twice went close through Puncheon who struck narrowly wide from a knockdown inside the area before firing a thunderous effort wide of the far post in the 66th minute.
Clyne earned Saints a corner on the back of another slick move from the visitors before Rangers made a second change with Shaun Derry replacing Diakite to add some bite into the hosts’ midfield.
Cesar did just enough to prevent Puncheon’s low strike across goal from going in before Mark Hughes made his last roll of the dice by introducing Fabio in place of Bosingwa. A minute later Saints made a change of their own with Danny Fox introduced for the impressive Shaw at left back.
After Cisse tried to better Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s overhead kick with an ambitious try on the edge of the Saints area, the visitors went back on the front foot with Puncheon again forcing Cesar into a low save from the right.
Maya Yoshida moved Cesar into another good save when the Japanese defender attempted some acrobatics of his own inside the Rangers area, as the hosts held on with the last ten minutes of the game rapidly approaching.
The contest was as good as over on 83 when a short corner was poorly defended by Rangers with Schneiderlin’s low ball into the six yard area deflected in off FERDINAND’s legs with the two goal margin finally restored.
Some cohesive keep ball inside the Rangers half meant that Saints saw out the contest in relative comfort, which despite a brief wobble in the second half, was no less than they had deserved over the course of the ninety minutes - and four added on for stoppages.
Full Time: QPR 1-3 Saints