Southampton’s 11-year stay in the Premier League ended in tame fashion as their relegation was confirmed with a home loss to Fulham.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, back from an eight-game ban for pushing referee Chris Kavanagh, sealed the Saints’ fate with a bowed header after Carlos Vinicius’ opener.
The hosts might have few complaints about the outcome after producing a muted performance when they knew they had to win to have any chance of pulling off an unlikely survival mission.
They had a Carlos Alcaraz strike disallowed for a marginal offside just before Vinicius broke the deadlock, but the confident Cottagers were comfortably the better side.
Willian’s first-half volley was cleared off the line by fellow Brazilian Lyanco, who had previously been lucky enough to elude a video assistant referee’s penalty check for handball.
But Vinicius headed home after Lyanco’s clearance gently ricocheted off Harrison Reed and Mitrovic nodded in his 12th league goal of the season from Harry Wilson’s cross.
Southampton, lethargic throughout, had no response after falling behind and will play Championship football next season for the first time since 2012.
Sorry saints sink in the second level
Saints supporter and Premier Rishi Sunak was among those in attendance on Saturday, but clusters of empty seats before kick-off at St Mary’s suggested many fans had already admitted the game was over.
Their fears proved to be well-founded and those vacant chairs numbered in the thousands by the final whistle, with some of the few who remained expressing their displeasure with caretaker boss Ruben Selles and his players.
Southampton picked up just three points from the last 33 available, slipping into a tailspin just as a number of their relegation rivals had started to produce important and, in some cases, unexpected results.
Much of the damage was done long before this race, however – Southampton slipped into the relegation places on November 6 after a 4-1 home loss to Newcastle and have remained there ever since.
They sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl a day after this beating but the sequel unfortunate appointment of Nathan Jones as his successor performed worse than the Austrian had overseen.
The former Luton boss has lost seven of his eight league games in charge – the only glimmer of light a 2-1 win at then equally unfortunate Frank Lampard’s Everton.
Jones, quickly on thin ice with supporters after home defeats to Brighton and relegation rivals Nottingham Forest, was fired after a 2-1 loss to 10 fellow wrestlers Wolves on 11 February.
By then the Saints had hit rock bottom, dropping to 20th after the Boxing Day loss to Brighton and remaining virtually entrenched at the table ever since.
Two wins in Selles’ first three games in charge – both 1-0 wins, at Stamford Bridge against missed Chelsea and at home against fellow drop contenders Leicester – have given a glimmer of hope.
But key defeats to West Ham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, as well as blowing away a 3-1 lead after 88 minutes to draw 3-3 with then-leaders Arsenal, ended any hopes of a great escape.
Fulham show the Saints the way home
Southampton’s previous absence from the Premier League, following relegation in 2005, lasted seven years and included a two-season dip in League One – two things they hope to avoid this time around.
They will almost certainly have to bounce back without inspirational skipper James Ward-Prowse, who will have plenty of suitors – although it’s a damning indictment for their season and, perhaps, summer recruiting, that it’s hard to pick too many. other obvious salable assets. .
The Saints could take inspiration from Fulham, twice relegated from the top flight in the past four years, but showing signs they can shed that yo-yo tag under Marco Silva.
The victory lifted last season’s Championship winners to ninth place and nearly secured the Cottagers a place in the first half, a deserved reward for the entertaining and attacking brand of football they produced.
As Southampton suffered a club-record 24th defeat of the season and failed to improve on their record 10 points at home, from 54 available so far, Fulham set happier milestones.
It was their 15th Premier League win of the campaign – a club record, as well as a seventh away win, and they also equaled their highest goal tally of 52 in 2003-04 and 2004 -05.
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