An angry and bemused Mark Hughes decried "the worst performance since I've been here, without a shadow of a doubt" after Queens Park Rangers were cast further adrift at the bottom of the Premier League by the team they had been hoping to climb above.
Southampton's comprehensive victory justified the visiting fans' faith in their manager, Nigel Adkins, and left the Loftus Road crowd venting their fury at Hughes and his team, whose summer expenditure and pre-season ambitions of a top half finish now look like delusions. Hughes, however, insists that he has no intention of resigning and "will see this job through".
"I don't run away from challenges," he said. "It was a huge challenge when I undertook it in January [QPR were 16th when Hughes was appointed] – there wasn't too many people queueing up for the role when I decided it was the job I wanted. I knew it was going to be problematic. But this year we had a real expectation and I was quite prepared to raise expectations because I thought we would have a good season. It hasn't quite happened and because we raised expectations more people are going to be disappointed so the fans are well within their rights to criticise myself, the staff and the team."
Southampton performed the way Hughes hoped his own team would. Adkins, too, was under pressure going into the game but his players did not betray it, playing with a composure and wit that did them and their manager credit. There is a difference between composure and passiveness and QPR embodied the latter, offering feeble resistance as Southampton seized the initiative early on, going close on a couple of occasions before Rickie Lambert gave them the lead in the 23rd minute. Hughes had been able to field an unchanged lineup for the first time this season but there was little cohesion from his charges.
"We talked all week about the significance of this game and maybe that created a little bit of anxiety," said Hughes as he struggled to explain QPR's slackness. "We were a little bit tentative in the first half, we weren't engaging, we weren't closing things down, we weren't anticipating things. All the fundamentals that you need to build a performance were sadly lacking."
Hughes admitted his disappointment with his players. "The vast majority of the players are very experienced and it shouldn't affect them in that manner and it surprised me that it possibly did."
Lambert's goal typified the difference between the sides. To a goalmouth scramble Gastón Ramirez brought a presence of mind that QPR lacked, astutely by laying the ball into the path of José Fonte, whose low drive was turned goalward by Jason Puncheon. José Bosingwa cleared it off the line but Lambert showed greater determination than any of the defenders to head into the net from close range.
Southampton increased their lead just before the break when Nathaniel Clyne won the ball back off Armand Traoré outside the QPR box and passed to Puncheon, who spun past Alejandro Faurlín and curled a low shot into the net from 18 yards.
Hughes introduced Jamie Mackie for the second half in place of Faurlín and switched to 4-4-2. QPR improved slightly and Junior Hoilett halved the deficit, heading a Adel Taarabt cross into the net in the 49th minute.
Southampton remained the better side and could have scored several times before they secured their first away win this season in the 83rd minute. Morgan Schneiderlin was given time to size up a cross and sent a low one to the near post, where Ferdinand diverted it into his own goal.
"We have young players who are maturing all the time," Adkins said. "We had a good defensive shape about us and we scored goals again. There's growing confidence."
In the buildup to this showdown Hughes' chairman, Tony Fernandes had reiterated his faith in Hughes and the importance of stability in football.
Hughes thought a reminder of that message might in order. "The club does need stability. We're going through a lot of pain but there was always the potential for that. I still have confidence in the group I have."