Liverpool's sustained bombardment came too late to salvage a point and convince a sceptical gallery that the team could reach their much-trumpeted Champions League objective.
Brett Ormerod had made a point with his two goals against Charlton Athletic last week and required just over a minute to underline it and compound the anguish for Liverpool's beleaguered manager, Gerrard Houllier.
"Champions League, you're having a laugh," taunted the Southampton supporters as Liverpool attempted to recover from that early reverse. They reacted with verve, yet struggled through the first half to find the measured, final pass.
Too much of their play was predictable and impotent. Antti Niemi, the Southampton goalkeeper, made a couple of routine saves, but for most of the period his work was none too demanding.
Houllier has been left in no doubt by the club's usually reclusive chairman, David Moores, that fourth place in the Premiership and the Champions League is the "minimum acceptable target" this season. The inference seems very clear.
The Liverpool manager, in turn, has warned his recognised first-team players that they will "rot in the reserves" unless they achieve the standards expected of them. These are anxious times at Anfield. The top three teams in the land already appear to be out of reach. Best of the rest is a dubious accolade for a club of this pedigree.
Liverpool's potential is restricted by injuries that keep out, among others, Michael Owen and Harry Kewell. In the credit column, Dietmar Hamann's return provides them with the midfield anchor that has been such a crucial part of their structure.
The anchor, alas, was lodged a little too firmly to prevent Ormerod from demonstrating his new-found confidence. The striker comprehensively outpaced the German in a sprint from the half-way line and calmly beat the advancing Chris Kirkland after one minute 14 seconds.
Liverpool responded with predictable vigour and Vladimir Smicer stretched Niemi to an excellent full-length save. Emile Heskey attempted to muscle through, only to be outnumbered.
For all Liverpool's forceful intent, Southampton maintained their composure and both Ormerod and James Beattie threatened to unhinge the home defence again.
Smicer tumbled after darting into the area but the referee, Paul Durkin, ignored the Kop's penalty appeals.
Early in the second half, Marian Pahars missed unforgivably after Beattie's splendid run and cutback. Then Kirkland saved Beattie's header athletically.
For Liverpool, Smicer had a shot blocked, Niemi saved from substitute Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Jason Dodd cleared off the line from Sami Hyypia.
Then, Michael Svensson extended Saints' lead with a powerful header from Dodd's corner in the 64th minute.
Liverpool's pressure brought a goal, dispatched by Heskey after Niemi parried Steven Gerrard's effort, 10 minutes later.
Liverpool: Kirkland, Otsemobor, Biscan, Hyypia, Riise, Diouf (Le Tallec 57), Hamann (Sinama Pongolle 57), Gerrard, Murphy, Heskey, Smicer.
Subs Not Used: Luzi Bernardi, Diao, Cheyrou.
Goals: Heskey 75.
Southampton: Niemi, Dodd, Michael Svensson, Lundekvam (Marsden 41), Higginbotham, Telfer, Delap, Prutton, Beattie (Delgado 81), Pahars (Fernandes 63), Ormerod.
Subs Not Used: Jones, Phillips.
Goals: Ormerod 2, Michael Svensson 64.
Ref: P Durkin (Dorset).
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited