As Southampton's team bus headed back across the A66 towards Darlington and a flight home from Durham Tees Valley airport it was easy to imagine the waiting cabin crew unloading champagne from the drinks trolleys.

A win on Teesside would have secured Nigel Adkins's side a Premier League place but, instead, it was Tony Mowbray's Middlesbrough who collected the precious three points which leaves them a chance, albeit slender, of making the play-offs.

Judging by the resounding wall of celebratory noise which greeted the final whistle you would have imagined they were already there but, in reality, securing sixth position will require victory at Watford on Saturday combined with Cardiff City losing their concluding fixture at Crystal Palace. Should the Welshmen draw, Boro would need to overcome Sean Dyche's side by 11 goals.

Southampton, meanwhile, are still poised to pip West Ham United to the Championship's second automatic promotion place behind Reading. That will be confirmed if Sam Allardyce's team fail to win at Leicester City on Monday night but may yet require Adkins's men to beat relegated Coventry this weekend at St Mary's.

"Our destiny is in our own hands," said Adkins. He could certainly do without a repeat of the false dawn on Teesside where, after just 47 seconds, Adam Lallana released Rickie Lambert who squared for an unmarked Billy Sharp to score his seventh goal in as many games.

By half-time, though, Boro were level courtesy of a long-range volley from the impressive Nicky Bailey, whose outstanding performance sitting just in front of the back four repeatedly disrupted the visitors' rhythm.

With the Belgium international Faris Haroun and the Moroccan Merouane Zemmama offering Mowbray's side assurance and creativity in possession, Southampton were frequently outplayed in midfield and Zemmama deservedly won it courtesy of a fabulously curved 20-yard free-kick.

By then, though, Seb Hines, already booked, had controversially remained on the pitch after tripping Lallana just outside the area. The Boro defender looked suitably relieved when, having awarded a free-kick, the referee inexplicably declined to send him off. "At that point I wrote 'Big Turning Point?' in my notebook," said Adkins.

Lallana agreed Hines should have seen red but acknowledged Southampton had self-destructed. "The lads are gutted," he said. "We scored so early but then didn't settle at all. We couldn't get hold of the ball. Nicky Bailey was causing a few issues for us, Boro rallied, their fans were with them and it just didn't happen. We're bitterly disappointed."

Maybe Lallana and friends had underestimated a home side who have struggled horribly when opponents travel to the Riverside in packed defensive mode but are capable of undoing almost anyone willing to engage them in an open, attacking contest.

"This result wasn't a surprise to me," said Mowbray. "We've had too many draws but we can give anybody a game. We'd played well against Sunderland [taking them to extra-time in an FA Cup replay] when they were really flying high in the Premier League and it helps us flow when a team comes with a positive mindset and attacks like Southampton did."

Now he must hope his players win at Watford and trust Crystal Palace do him a favour. "Cardiff have to go to Palace which isn't an easy one because Palace can beat anyone on their day," he said. "But what will be will be."

Boro fans can only pray that the cabin crew staffing the team's return flight to Durham Tees Valley receive late instructions to make some space for champagne on their trolleys.