ALBION fell victim to Rickie Lambert’s fairytale week as the Saints striker’s 90th-minute penalty sentenced the hosts to an opening-day defeat.
Lambert, who netted on his England debut on Wednesday, beat international team-mate Ben Foster from 12 yards after Youssouf Mulumbu was harshly adjudged to have tripped Luke Shaw in the penalty area.
Defences were on top throughout and this looked like a goalless banker until the late penalty drama.
Southampton were the more composed side in the first half but could only force Foster into a couple of routine saves.
It was the Baggies’ turn to enjoy the lion’s share of possession after the break yet they too struggled to create clear-cut chances.
But there was real Albion agony in the first minute of stoppage time when Billy Jones was denied a dramatic equaliser by Artur Boruc's wonder save.
There was a touching moment before kick-off when the crowd saluted the news the pre-match playlist had been dedicated to Charlatans tracks in memory of much-loved drummer and lifelong Albion fan, Jon Brookes, who passed away on Tuesday.
Nicolas Anelka was handed his Barclays Premier League debut for Albion as Steve Clarke made one change from the club’s final pre-season friendly. Shane Long replaced Markus Rosenberg in attack while new boy Matej Vydra was named on the bench.
Lambert, fresh from his England heroics against Scotland, and summer signings Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren started for the Saints.
Albion were forced to work hard during the opening exchanges to contain Southampton’s expensively-assembled side, who made a vibrant start. During the first ten minutes, central defensive pairing Gareth McAuley, twice, and Jonas Olsson had to make acrobatic clearances inside their own box.
From the Baggies’ first real spell of pressure, a tame James Morrison shot caused Boruc far more concern than it should have, with the Saints keeper pushing it wide at the last minute having thought it was going wide.
Southampton broke with purpose again on 14 but Foster was equal to James Ward-Prowse’s 30-yard pile-driver, firstly parrying than gathering the stinging effort.
Two minutes later, McAuley rose highest in the box to meet Graham Dorrans’ corner but the defensive lynchpin could only head over.
A Saints free-kick from the left in the 20th minute wreaked havoc in the Baggies box and McAuley denied Lambert a certain goal with a vital last-ditch block. A melee ensued before the hosts finally hacked the ball clear.
Albion were not at their fluent best in the forward areas and their next foray came to naught, with Mulumbu’s 15-yard snapshot smashing into Jones’ back before flying well wide.
Southampton thought they’d broken the deadlock on 33 when Adam Lallana tapped home Lambert’s header at the back-post. The ‘goal’ was ruled out for offside. Lallana wasn’t but team-mate Jay Rodriguez, who was stood alongside him, was.
Albion’s best effort of the game thus far came from a 35-yard free-kick, with Dorrans’ shot arcing around the Saints wall before clipping the roof of the net.
The South Coast side finished the half in positive fashion and Foster was forced to push wide Shaw’s rising 25-yard drive.
Southampton, starting a second successive season in the top flight, continued to look the more cohesive side after the break, although Foster had little trouble keeping out a tame Lambert header from Rodriguez’s centre.
However, the Baggies, roared on by a packed home crowd, soon got some momentum going and Jose Fonte had to produce a vital challenge inside the box to divert wide Long’s snapshot. A minute later, the Baggies striker saw a cheeky back-heel from Liam Ridgewell’s centre fly past the far post.
Anelka had been well shackled by the Saints defence throughout and he was denied a clear chance on 64 by Lovren’s last-ditch tackle as he controlled Morrison’s slick through-ball.
And Albion went agonisingly close two minutes later when Morrison was denied a certain goal, seeing his six-yard prod blocked by Callum Chambers from Jones’ low cross.
Clarke made a double change on 83, replacing strikers Long and Anelka with Vydra and Rosenberg.
Albion suffered a huge setback in the 89th minute when Mulumbu upended Shaw in the box. Contact looked minimal but referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot. Lambert made no mistake, slamming his penalty into the bottom left-hand corner.
The Baggies rallied in search of an equaliser and they almost got it in the first minute of stoppage time. Southampton failed to clear Vydra's left-wing cross and Jones saw his well-placed 12-yard header somehow turned wide by Boruc at full stretch.
ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson (c), Ridgewell; Morrison, Mulumbu, Yacob, Dorrans; Anelka (Rosenberg 83), Long (Vydra 83). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Brunt, Dawson, Berahino, Popov.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-2): Boruc; Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Lallana (Ramirez 70), Ward-Prowse (Cork 90+3); Rodriguez (S Davis 78), Lambert. Subs not sued: K Davis (gk), Clyne, Mayuka, Hooiveld.
GOALS: SOUTHAMPTON – Lambert (90 pen).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – McAuley (47), Ridgewell (foul 57), Jones (76), Mulumbu (unsporting behaviour 82).
REFEREE: K Friend (Leicestershire).
ALBION STARMAN: Billy Jones.