Jason Puncheon fires Southampton to victory against Reading

Before Southampton played Swansea on 10 November, Nigel Adkins was generally understood, not least by himself judging by his comments at the time, to be within 90 minutes of being dismissed as the Southampton manager.

Since then the Saints have won three games and drawn two, losing only at Liverpool, a run that has lifted them to 15th in the Premier League.

This though was a performance which pleased Adkins as much as the result, because Southampton dominated from the start, and Jason Puncheon's winner on the hour was the least they deserved. Reading could argue they were unfortunate when Hal Robson-Kanu hit the post with a header shortly before half-time but Brian McDermott admitted his disappointment with his side's lack of creativity.

"It's important that you win the games against the teams that are close to you in the division but I was happy with the performance, though we should have scored more goals than we did," Adkins said.

He praised Puncheon, the former Barnet winger who has re-established himself in the team after a public spat with the chairman, Nicola Cortese, and time spent out on loan.

"He's matured, he's worked very hard and he's won a place on merit by giving us a lot," Adkins said. "He's bought into the culture here."

He had a word too for Kelvin Davis, the experienced goalkeeper he brought in to replace the injured 20-year-old Paulo Gazzinga. Many Saints' supporters will suggest the clean sheet may not have been a coincidence.

Reading found themselves defending from the start. With the full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw quick to get forward in support of Puncheon and Adam Lallana down the flanks, Southampton sent in a series of crosses and nearly took the lead when Puncheon gave the overlapping Clyne the chance to drive in a low cross which Morgan Schneiderlin diverted just outside Adam Federici's left-hand post.

Lallana, with a half-volley, and Lambert, with a an attempted curler, both forced Federici to make a save – the second more demanding than the first – and it was not until Jay Tabb, driving from midfield, got in an angled shot shortly before the half-hour that Davis was required to make his first save.

Southampton may have been fortunate not to concede a penalty when Tabb, attempting to reach the subsequent rebound before Jack Cork, went down under the defender's clumsy challenge.

Puncheon, coming in at the far post, then headed in a Lallana corner only to have his effort disallowed for what the referee, Jon Moss, appeared to indicate was a push by Maya Yoshida on Federici. It was a genuinely baffling decision: if anything Federici pushed Yoshida.

After all their possession, if not pressure, it would have been a body blow for Southampton to go in behind, but they came within a post's width of doing so when Sean Morrison headed a corner back across goal and Robson-Kanu headed firmly against Davis's left post with the goalkeeper well beaten.

Clyne, with another excellent overlap and intelligent pass inside, has to take a lot of the credit, but Puncheon's finish, looking up and driving the ball beyond Federici with his right foot, was assured.

McDermott used all three substitutes in an effort to galvanise his side but it was Southampton who continued to look the more likely to score.

Guly do Prado, whose introduction for Jay Rodriguez was not welcomed by a crowd that would have preferred to see Manuel Mayaka, curled a shot just over, and with two minutes remaining, should have done better than shoot too close to Federici from no more than six yards.

McDermott was clearly upset, especially with the lack of response when Reading conceded. "We've had a bad day today, we were as poor as we've been. We always have a response when we go behind, but we didn't this time," he said.

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