By Liam Dawes
Rickie Lambert scored a second half hat-trick to send Brighton to a convincing defeat in a stormy encounter at St Mary’s Stadium.
The Southampton strikers’ treble included two controversial penalties, the first of which was given for a foul which clearly occurred outside the area.
Albion full back and assistant manager Mauricio Taricco was sent off for foul and abusive language during the ensuing protests.
Fuming Albion boss Gus Poyet said: “I cannot talk about the whole game because there were two games today: one before the 55th minute and one after.
“He was supposed to be a Premiership referee but one decision changed the game.
“The linesman knew and that’s why he flagged for a free-kick and not a penalty. The referee had a good game until the 55th minute.”
A tame first half saw both sides cancel each other out, with neither side allowing the other to stamp their authority in front of an attendance of 31,812.
Albion would have been the happier side at the interval given Southampton’s 100 per cent start to their home campaign this season, but all their hard work was undone early in the second half.
A diagonal ball from Frazer Richardson picked out Lambert at the far post, and he rose above both Taricco and Craig Noone to head past Steve Harper.
The Seagulls nearly struck back straight away – home goalkeeper Kelvin Davis spilled under pressure, but Billy Paynter couldn’t get the loose ball through a melee of onrushing defenders.
Minutes later Lewis Dunk tangled with Jose Fonte just outside the opposite penalty area, only for referee Peter Walton to inexplicably point to the spot.
Walton stuck to his decision despite consultation with his assistant, with Taricco dismissed for swearing at the Northamptonshire official.
Lambert converted from 12 yards to rub salt into Albion’s rapidly opening wounds.
Harper then made a fine low save try and deny Lambert his hat-trick, but he wasn’t to be denied the match ball.
Iñigo Calderón was harshly adjudged to have tripped Lambert inside the box, and the striker dusted himself down to secure Saints’ 19th consecutive home win, and maintain their five point lead at the top of the Championship.
Albion slip to 12th place ahead of next week’s visit of Coventry City.