Saints’ Championship title hopes suffered a big blow as they were beaten 3-1 by Reading at St Mary’s.

The Royals leapfrogged Saints to move three points clear at the top of the table with three games remaining, and Brian McDermott’s side now look nailed on to gain automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Saints remain in a very strong position but will be hoping that West Ham fail to beat Brighton tomorrow to ensure a comfortable gap over the play-off spots.

Saints totally dominated the first half, creating a string of chances, but found themselves a goal down on 19 minutes when Jason Roberts headed in Jimmy Kebe’s cross.

If the first half was a Reading smash and grab, the second period proved much of the same.

Saints got the leveller they had deserved when Rickie Lambert fired in via a deflection three minutes after the restart.

But, after more Saints pressure and more Saints chances had come and gone, it was Reading who again got their noses in front against the run of play, second half sub Adam Le Fondre sidefooting into the top corner.

The Reading win was sealed in stoppage time as Saints failed to deal with a routine long ball and Le Fondre rounded Kelvin Davis and slotted home.