By Ed Elliot, PA
James Ward-Prowse produced a pair of stunning strikes as Southampton battled back from two goals down to claim a thrilling 2-2 Premier League draw at mid-table rivals Brighton.
Saints skipper Ward-Prowse expertly curled home the 14th top-flight free-kick goal of his career just before the break before lashing his team level early in the second period.
Danny Welbeck’s early close-range finish and an own goal from Mohammed Salisu looked to have set Albion on course for an overdue first home win since Boxing Day – but they could not hold on.
Substitute Pascal Gross thought he had restored the Seagulls’ lead late on before his low strike from range was disallowed for him being marginally offside in the build up.
A memorable comeback for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s visitors was slightly overshadowed by Tino Livramento – who hit the woodwork at 1-0 – being carried off on a stretcher in the 37th minute after twisting awkwardly.
Both sides retain hopes of top-half finishes and, while this result does little to significantly boost either in that regard, Saints will undoubtedly be the happier.
They sit a point and two positions below their 11th-placed hosts following the crucial contribution of influential England midfielder Ward-Prowse.
Brighton had drawn three and lost four at the Amex Stadium since beating Brentford in late December, failing to score in their last five outings in front of their own fans.
Defender Adam Webster made his first start in more than two months and forwards Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay were recalled in a bid to snap that poor run, while Saints’ six changes included a rare outing for Shane Long.
Albion made a blistering start and swiftly ended a home goal drought dating back to the 1-1 draw with Chelsea on January 18, inside 76 seconds.
Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster failed to gather Marc Cucurella’s low cross from the left as Enock Mwepu challenged for the ball, leaving Welbeck with the simple task of stabbing into the empty net.
Southampton’s woeful start was a continuation of Thursday’s dismal 2-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Burnley.
But they were almost level with 13 minutes on the clock.
Livramento’s deflected strike from just outside the 18-yard box rebounded off the left post and then struck Seagulls goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, with Che Adams narrowly unable to turn home the loose ball.
The open, end-to-end action continued and Maupay had a header disallowed for offside in the 18th minute.
Saints then lost defender Livramento to a nasty-looking injury.
The England Under-21 international went down in clear discomfort as he attempted to challenge Mwepu and was treated on the pitch for around four minutes before being carried off to be replaced by Romain Perraud.
Forster superbly denied Welbeck his second from close range before the Seagulls doubled their advantage in the 44th minute thanks to a gift from Salisu.
Trossard attempted to thread a pass through to Welbeck and Saints’ Ghanaian defender clumsily diverted the ball into his own goal via the left post.
Daylight did not last long for the hosts as Ward-Prowse halved the deficit in the fourth of five minutes added on following Livramento’s premature departure.
The Saints skipper whipped a trademark set-piece through the Brighton wall and beyond the dive of Sanchez, with the ball going in off the left upright.
That timely goal changed the complexion of the contest going into the interval and the visitors were level nine minutes after the restart.
Ward-Prowse again did the damage, emphatically drilling the ball into the bottom-left corner from the edge of the D to claim his ninth league goal this term after being teed up by Oriol Romeu.
Southampton had the better of the second period but could not find a third.
They also survived a scare when Brighton midfielder Gross was denied a winner by an offside flag 11 minutes from time.