Liverpool eased the burden on Luis Suarez with perfect timing. The Uruguay striker has carried the threat for Brendan Rodgers's team almost single-handedly this season but his brilliance was not required against Southampton as Daniel Agger secured back-to-back league wins at Anfield for the first time since September 2011.
They will have to repeat the feat at West Ham next weekend when Suarez will be suspended following a booking here for attempting to score with his hands. The Liverpool manager bristled at a suggestion that Suarez's fifth booking of the season arrived from an act of gamesmanship: "I knew he was booked but I didn't know what for," Rodgers said. Asked if he thought deliberate handball constituted cheating by Suarez, the riled Liverpool manager added: "I don't think it is cheating, no. Cheating? No."
In fairness to Rodgers, he probably did not see controversy coming on an otherwise comfortable afternoon. Not since Bolton and Wolves were dispatched early last season have Liverpool enjoyed successive league wins at home. An end to that dreadful statistic was rarely in doubt against a limited Southampton side.
"The game should have been put to bed in the first half," Rodgers said. "I thought we were outstanding in the first half. Our tempo, passing and movement was excellent. We just didn't have any luck with the final ball.
"We had to defend for the last 10 minutes at 1-0 but we should have been out of sight."
Rickie Lambert was intent on making an impact against his boyhood club and his shoot-on-sight policy began early with a 25-yard effort wide of Jose Reina's goal. But that was a rare moment of adventure from Southampton who did not threaten again until Lambert almost caught out Reina from 35 yards in first-half stoppage-time.
The return of Lucas Leiva from a torn thigh muscle sustained in August instantly improved the balance in Liverpool's midfield, with the Brazil international allowing Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen to push on from the right and left respectively and to keep Southampton encamped deep inside their own half.
Suarez picked himself up after a foul from his international colleague Gaston Ramirez and curled the resultant free-kick against the bar. Johnson was first to react, retrieving possession and cutting back on to his left foot to float a delightful cross towards Agger, who steered a towering header into the top corner. It was no more than Liverpool deserved.
Jose Enrique twice went close to extending the home side's advantage after the interval, when Liverpool's display dipped, but Southampton lacked the quality to capitalise.