Southampton’s 11-year stay in the Premier League ended in tame fashion as their relegation was confirmed with defeat at home by Fulham.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, making his return from an eight-game ban for pushing referee Chris Kavanagh, sealed Saints’ fate with a stooping header after Carlos Vinicius’ opener.
The hosts could have few complaints about the outcome after producing a muted performance despite knowing they had to win to have any chance of pulling off an unlikely survival mission.
They did have 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 earlier been fortunate to escape a video assistant referee’s penalty check for handball.
But Vinicius tucked home after Lyanco’s clearance ricocheted to him kindly 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 be playing Championship football next season for the first time since 2012.
Sorry Saints sink into second tier
Saints supporter and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was among those in attendance on Saturday but the clumps of empty seats before kick-off at St Mary’s suggested many fans had already conceded the game was up.
Their fears were proven right and those vacant chairs numbered thousands at the final whistle, with some of the few who stayed behind voicing their displeasure at interim boss Ruben Selles and his players.
Southampton have collected just three points from the past 33 available, slipping into freefall just as a number of their relegation rivals had begun to produce important and, in some cases, unexpected results.
Much of the damage was done long before that run, however – Southampton slipped into the relegation places on 6 November after a 4-1 home loss to Newcastle and have remained there ever since.
They sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl a day after that drubbing but the subsequent ill-fated appointment of Nathan Jones as his successor yielded worse results than the Austrian had overseen.
The former Luton boss lost seven of his eight league games in charge – the only glimmer of light a 2-1 win at Frank Lampard’s then equally hapless Everton.
Jones, quickly on thin ice with supporters following home defeats by Brighton and relegation rivals Nottingham Forest, was dismissed after a 2-1 loss to 10-man fellow strugglers Wolves on 11 February.
By that time, Saints had hit rock-bottom, sinking to 20th after the Boxing Day defeat by Brighton and staying rooted to the table virtually ever since.
Two wins in Selles’ first three games in charge – both 1-0 victories, at Stamford Bridge against misfiring Chelsea and at home to fellow drop candidates Leicester – provided a glimmer of hope.
But key losses to West Ham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, as well as letting a 3-1 lead after 88 minutes slip to draw 3-3 at then leaders Arsenal, put paid to any hopes of a great escape.
Fulham show Saints the way back
Southampton’s previous absence from the Premier League, after relegation in 2005, lasted seven years and included a two-season dip into League One – both things they will hope to avoid this time.
They will almost certainly have to rebound without inspirational skipper James Ward-Prowse, who will have suitors aplenty – although it is a damning indictment on their season and, perhaps, summer recruitment, that it is difficult to pick out too many other obvious saleable assets.
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.
This win lifted last season’s Championship title-winners to ninth and all but assured the Cottagers a top-half finish, a deserved reward for the entertaining and attacking brand of football they have produced.
While Southampton were enduring a club-record 24th league loss of the season and failing to improve on their all-time low home haul of 10 points, from 54 available so far, Fulham were setting happier milestones.
This was their 15th Premier League win of the campaign – a record high for the club, as was a seventh top-flight away victory, and they also equalled their highest goal tally of 52 from 2003-04 and 2004-05.
- 3Maitland-NilesSubstituted forA Armstrongat 82′minutes
- 45LaviaBooked at 53mins
- 32WalcottSubstituted forSulemanaat 62′minutes
- 26AlcarazSubstituted forElyounoussiat 73′minutes
- 17S ArmstrongSubstituted forDjenepoat 73′minutesBooked at 77mins
- 12OnuachuSubstituted forMaraat 62′minutes
- 9A Armstrong
- 26João PalhinhaSubstituted forLukicat 77′minutes
- 8WilsonSubstituted forKebanoat 78′minutes
- 10CairneySubstituted forDe Cordova-Reidat 69′minutes
- 20WillianSubstituted forSolomonat 78′minutes
- 30Carlos ViníciusSubstituted forMitrovicat 65′minutes
- 12Cédric Soares
- 14De Cordova-Reid
Match ends, Southampton 0, Fulham 2.
Second Half ends, Southampton 0, Fulham 2.
Attempt saved. Manor Solomon (Fulham) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Bobby De Cordova-Reid.
Foul by Bobby De Cordova-Reid (Fulham).
Lyanco (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Kenny Tete (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Moussa Djenepo (Southampton).
Harrison Reed (Fulham) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Moussa Djenepo (Southampton).
Foul by Manor Solomon (Fulham).
Moussa Djenepo (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Lyanco.
Foul by Sasa Lukic (Fulham).
James Ward-Prowse (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match because of an injury Manor Solomon (Fulham).
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Jan Bednarek.
Attempt blocked. Roméo Lavia (Southampton) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Moussa Djenepo.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Issa Diop.
Attempt blocked. Kamaldeen Sulemana (Southampton) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
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