Southampton took a huge stride towards securing their Premier League survival and simultaneously relegated West Brom with victory at Swansea City, who are now perilously close to joining the Baggies in the Championship.
Manolo Gabbiadini’s strike means the Swans are now three points adrift of Southampton – and safety – and will go into Sunday’s final game of the season occupying the final relegation spot.
Southampton’s considerably better goal difference over Swansea means even a defeat at Manchester City will keep them up, as long as the Swans do not make up a 10-goal swing when they face Stoke.
Huddersfield are 17th, level on points with Southampton, but have a game in hand at Chelsea on Wednesday – a point at Stamford Bridge would be enough to keep the Terriers up.
With so much at stake, both sides seemed gripped with anxiety in a goalless first half which produced only a handful of chances at either end.
The tension increased after the break as Saints keeper Alex McCarthy saved brilliantly from Jordan Ayew, before Charlie Austin missed one glorious opportunity as he directed a free header straight at Lukasz Fabianski.
Fabianski thwarted Austin again from a corner in the 73rd minute but, from the rebound, substitute Gabbiadini bundled the ball in to spark manic celebrations in the away end.
Saints all but seal survival after hotel confusion
A match of this enormity did not need its fires stoking, but it was given an added layer of intrigue with the news that Southampton’s stay at their hotel in Swansea was cancelled at the last minute, meaning they had to stay at a different venue near Cardiff.
The hotel said they followed “normal procedures” after an illness outbreak.
Despite having less possession for much of the game, the Saints had the two best chances to score but on both occasions Austin saw his efforts saved by Fabianski.
The striker was a reliable outlet for the visitors, though his service was sporadic as neither team was able to play with much coherence.
|How Southampton’s managers have fared during the 2017-18 season|
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The longer the game remained goalless, the more the tension rose to almost unbearable levels.
Knowing a draw might not be enough with a fixture against Manchester City to come on Sunday, Hughes decided to go for broke and brought on striker Gabbiadini for defender Jan Bednarek.
It proved an inspired move, with the Italian scoring within five minutes of his introduction to take Southampton within touching distance of Premier League safety.
‘Swans have lost their identity as they stand on the brink’
A winless run of seven matches meant Swansea were starting a match in the relegation zone for the first time since 3 March; the afterglow of their initial transformation under Carlos Carvalhal fading rapidly.
The Swans were bottom of the Premier League and seemingly destined for relegation when the Portuguese was appointed in December and his impact was immediate, with a run of five wins in nine league games lifting them out of the bottom three.
However, Carvalhal’s side had become devoid of confidence in recent weeks, scoring only two goals in their sequence of seven games without victory.
The home side pressed their opponents at times – fashioning a couple of efforts on goal from Andy King and Sam Clucas – but after they fell behind, such determination looked more like desperation.
The sight of the Swans’ players aimlessly lumping long balls into Southampton’s penalty area was indicative not only of their dismal form this season, but of the way in which the Welsh side – once renowned for their attractive playing style – have lost their identity.
Swansea have flirted with relegation too frequently in recent campaigns and, after the constant changing of managers and upheaval off the field, their seven-season stay in the Premier League looks like it is coming to an end.
Man of the match was Wesley Hoedt.
‘Dark arts at work’ – what they said
Southampton manager Mark Hughes, speaking to BBC Sport: “It was a big performance from us. I came in late to proceedings and needed to get a reaction out of players who had maybe lost their way somewhat. I have to say, since I’ve come in they’ve worked hard and, even when results went against us, never diminished belief.
“It is not mathematically certain. We had to come here and we had to win. If we had not won today it would have been very, very difficult for us. It is not done yet but tonight we have put ourselves in the position where we have a great chance to stay up.
“We will enjoy tonight, we got what we set out to get. A huge result, we are delighted but there’s still got work to do.”
On having to change hotel late on due to a ‘virus’:
“We suspected that maybe it was some of the dark arts at work but we didn’t let us affect us, in fact we used it as a motivating factor. That helped our focus and we won’t be staying in the vicinity of the hotel Marriott Swansea, I think we will stick to the Vale of Glamorgan.”
Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal, speaking to BBC Sport: “It was a push to us because the boys did everything in the game. They played with a fantastic attitude. We played more long balls than normal but it is normal in this kind of situation with the emotion. The goalkeeper made two or three fantastic saves.
“I will not put the fault in my players, I never do this. I assume responsibility. It is not a question that they are not good enough, we created chances. We did our maximum, the players did their maximum but we did not score for whatever reason.
“In this moment we are not relegated. Tomorrow, we don’t know. Definitely we don’t depend on ourselves.”
Swansea’s winless run continues – the stats
- Swansea have failed to score in eight different Premier League home games this season, more than any other side.
- Seven of Southampton’s last 11 away Premier League victories have been against sides starting the day in the relegation zone.
- Only Stoke (13) are on a longer winless run in the Premier League than Swansea (8 – D3 L5).
- Swansea have failed to score in eight of their 12 Premier League clashes with Southampton, scoring just five goals in total in those matches.
- Manolo Gabbiadini has netted two goals in his last four away league games for Southampton after failing to find the back of the net in the previous 12.
- Gabbiadini’s goal was just his fifth in his last 41 games for Southampton in all competitions, one fewer than he managed in his first four games for Saints.