Southampton recovered from a goal down to earn a 1-1 draw with Brighton but wasted the chance to ignite their season as their struggles continued in the final third.
They had recently shown signs of improvement and secured some encouraging results, but after under-pressure manager Mauricio Pellegrino started new £19.2million striker Guido Carrillo on the bench, they remain at risk of relegation and in 18th place.
Brighton represented beatable opposition even after Glenn Murray had given them the lead, but following Jack Stephens scoring for the second game in succession and despite their dominance, the winning goal Southampton so desperately needed did not arrive.
The visitors had already threatened through Jose Izquierdo and Davy Propper when, in the 14th minute, a clumsy challenge by Wesley Hoedt on Solly March brought the winger down in the area and they were awarded a penalty.
Murray routinely stepped up and finished into the bottom right corner while Alex McCarthy dived towards the left. Unusually in the context of the host team’s so-far disappointing season, they almost immediately produced a response.
Despite so often playing with a lack of creativity and confidence, even if they were doing so against hesitant and limited opponents — and perhaps partly because of that — they found a consistent attacking intent.
Oriol Romeu struck harmlessly over the crossbar from the edge of the area after a classy, backheeled lay-off from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and the impressive Ryan Bertrand then curled just over when aiming for the top left corner after a run from the left wing.
By half-time Brighton’s Mat Ryan had been forced to rush out to intercept a through-ball to Shane Long, Hojbjerg had chased down a clearance from the goalkeeper and deflected it onto the bar, and Bertrand had again curled just over.
As has often been the case for Pellegrino’s team, only the absence of a natural goalscorer meant they were not by then level, which made the introduction of record signing Carrillo as inevitable as his omission was puzzling.
The Argentinian unusually adopted a 4-4-2 for the second half as Carrillo and Sofiane Boufal replaced Romeu and Dusan Tadic, demonstrating how crucial it was they avoided another defeat.
Stephens had already headed wide from a promising position when, in the 64th minute, a foul by March on Boufal gave the hosts a left-wing free-kick.
After James Ward-Prowse curled a low cross into the penalty area, similarly to during Saturday’s 1-0 defeat of Watford, from close range Stephens sent the loose ball through the crowded penalty area and towards goal, beyond Ryan and into the back of the net.
The momentum Southampton’s, Hojbjerg shortly followed that with a low drive from midfield that Ryan routinely saved, but despite their dominance of possession, they continued to struggle to create the clear chance they needed.
In stoppage time, Steven Davis sent a well-struck, 25-yard shot towards the bottom right corner, but again Ryan saved, securing 15th-placed Brighton another vital point.