It might not have ultimately been the result that Saints fans hoped for, but it was the kind of night they so wanted.

This was proof that Saints are back.

Back to competing with big teams. Back to playing exciting football at home no matter the opposition. Back to having optimism.

So often over the last few years going to St Mary’s has felt like far too much of a chore for the club’s supporters. They have turned up out of a sense of loyalty rather than because it was how they desperately wanted to spend their money and spare time.

And the reward they got for sticking in there was to too often leave with their worst fears confirmed and a depressing trudge home.

Things feel so different now under Ralph Hasenhuttl.

For the first time in a very long time there was a real sense of excitement and quiet hope before a difficult game at St Mary’s.

There was a real big time atmosphere at the ground due to Liverpool’s title challenge.

But far from turning up expecting Saints to get dispatched with ease, there was a feeling that Hasenhuttl’s team could give them a real game.

Given their form in recent times, given the verve they are playing with and free of even a hint of pressure because of their league position, points total and games to come, it was justified too.

The performance on the pitch backed that all up.

The early goal from Shane Long gave Saints something very real to cling to. He might even have made it 2-0 and then goodness knows what might have happened.

Throughout the game Saints were highly competitive.

They posed Liverpool questions, they didn’t give away many chances because they were often the aggressors, proving they understand how to play a patient pressing game, even with the knowledge they were up against a team that could punish any mistake and exploit any space they left.

Jurgen Klopp’s double change in the second half did wrestle control away but how frustrating for Saints to concede the crucial goal from a corner they were attacking.

That was one of those fine margins moments. Within the blink of an eye they had lost a couple of challenges and one header left Mo Salah one-on-one with Ryan Bertrand.

Salah then produced the clinical moment and Saints were beaten before Jordan Henderson added another which put a harsh slant on the scoreline from a Saints perspective.

However, despite that disappointment, and that Saints finished second best, the very fact they are competing again against this type of team proves how far they have come, and hints at how far they may go under Hasenhuttl’s guidance.