Southampton almost certainly secured their Premier League survival after Manolo Gabbiadini’s second-half goal gave them a 1-0 win over Swansea City on Tuesday that left their relegation rivals deep in the mire.
Substitute Gabbiadini bundled home a scrappy goal after 72 minutes to settle a tension-filled encounter in South Wales that left Southampton’s players celebrating at the final whistle.
The result saw West Bromwich Albion relegated to the Championship and left Southampton on 36 points, three clear of Swansea heading into the season’s final round of matches this weekend.
With Southampton’s goal difference better than Swansea’s by nine, it would take a remarkable swing against the south-coast club, who host champions Manchester City on Sunday, for them to drop out of the top flight.
Swansea, on the other hand, need to win their final game against already relegated Stoke City and hope Huddersfield Town lose at Chelsea on Wednesday and at home to Arsenal on Sunday.
While not mathematically safe, Southampton manager Mark Hughes, who was sacked by Stoke earlier in the season, was in party mood at full-time, joining his players on the pitch as they saluted the visiting fans.
“I thought we were immense today, we just weren’t going to be denied so I am really delighted for them, for the club,” Hughes told Sky Sports.
“It’s not done mathematically yet, but we have put ourselves in a wonderful position.”
Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal, however, knows his side are in a far more precarious situation.
“Now we don’t have things in our hands,” he said. “We must do our part and win the (last) game and then wait.
“We are professional, it is not easy this situation. We must react very fast because we have a game on Sunday.”
The match at the Liberty Stadium was far from a classic, with mistakes and misplaced passes far outnumbering chances.
With Swansea having had the fewest shots of any team in the Premier League this season and Southampton boasting the third worst chance conversion rate in the division, it was no surprise that goals and even opportunities were in short supply.
If both sets of fans were wracked with nerves, the players did little to alleviate the tension, filling a cagey first half with numerous mistakes and stalled attacks.
It took until the 31st minute for either side to craft an opening with Southampton’s Charlie Austin testing keeper Lukasz Fabianski with a low drive and a sharp volley either side of a Sam Clucas header at the other end that drifted narrowly wide.
The first half was so lacking in quality that it had the feel of a Championship fixture, but the second began with a fleeting moment of genuine skill when Jordan Ayew curled a superb effort that was brilliantly tipped over by Alex McCarthy.
Austin was guilty of wasting another chance when he headed straight at Fabianski but he was the architect of the only goal.
A Southampton corner was headed back to the striker, who turned sharply before volleying at goal. His effort was blocked by Fabianski but Gabbiadini was on hand to turn the ball home.
West Brom’s revival comes too late
West Brom have been rejuvenated in recent weeks, winning three games in an unbeaten five-match run. Yet their impressive late-season rally, spearheaded by the appointment of caretaker manager Darren Moore, came too late in the campaign.
Moore replaced Alan Pardew at the start of April, taking over with the club seven points adrift at the bottom of the table and 10 short of the safety zone with six matches to play.
He helped engineer an almost remarkable turnaround in their fortunes, guiding them to wins over Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur plus draws against Swansea and Liverpool.
West Brom’s 1-0 home victory over fourth-placed Tottenham on Saturday lifted them off the bottom of table for the first time since January, but the celebrations were short-lived.
It was a bitter-sweet day for West Brom’s Moore, who had earlier been given the Premier League’s manager of the month award after guiding the club through April unbeaten.
Moore, whose future at the club is still unclear after being appointed on an interim basis, hailed the togetherness of the squad after collecting his award.
Unity, however, was a quality seemingly in short supply earlier in the campaign as West Brom’s troubles were not limited to the pitch.
In February, West Brom players Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill apologised after being questioned by police over the theft of a taxi in Barcelona, where the team were holding a warm-weather training camp.
Pardew said they had broken a team curfew and he felt let down.
Pardew had only been at the club for a relatively short time. He replaced the sacked Tony Pulis at the end of November with West Brom two points above the bottom three.
Pardew was in charge for 21 matches in all competitions, managing three wins with only one of those in the league.
By the time Moore took control, West Brom’s fate was effectively sealed.