Southampton have all but guaranteed survival in the Premier League, with a dramatic 1-0 win over Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. On a cold Tuesday night in Wales, a Manolo Gabbiadini goal in the 72nd minute was the difference between the two sides. This result also pushed Swansea into the bottom three going into the final day of the season, on which they host an already-relegated Stoke City side. Also, West Bromwich Albion have been relegated after tonight, despite putting in a spirited fight in the last month.
Mark Hughes has forged quite the turnaround on the south coast since taking charge in March. After losing his first three games in charge, The Saints pulled clear of the bottom three for the first time in six weeks last weekend. Swansea knew, coming into this one, that anything other than a win would spell a lot of trouble.
In a game where neither side had too many clear-cut chances to score, it was a freak occurrence that made the telling difference. Southampton centre-back Jan Bednarek was taken out by his own goalkeeper while defending a corner. The player wanted to continue, but the club’s doctors were taking no chances with a possible concussion. Hughes had no defensive replacements on the bench, and therefore decided to change the shape by bringing on Gabbiadini, who only had four goals to his name in an under-par season thus far. The Italian though, bundled the ball in from corner with only his third touch after coming on, after Lukas Fabianski had kept out Charlie Austin’s initial effort. Bedlam ensued at the away end, with the travelling fans going into the raptures.
Southampton knew that the game was far from over, having conceded a 96th-minute equalizer against Everton last weekend. This time though, they were up against a Swansea side who looked completely and utterly toothless. Substitute Tammy Abraham fashioned a couple of half-chances with some good forward play, but didn’t really trouble Alex McCarthy.
The wild celebrations at the final whistle told the complete story. There were several Swansea fans in tears, as their topsy-turvy season threatens to end in the worst way possible. They seem to have pulled themselves out of trouble after Carlos Carvalhal’s appointment in December, and were as high as 13th at the start of March. Since then though, a run of six games without a win has propelled them on a downward spiral.
As it stands, The Swans could get relegated tomorrow if Huddersfield Town pick up a point away at Chelsea tomorrow. The Terriers have been well and truly dragged into the mix as well, as they need a point from their remaining two games. Following the trip to Stamford Bridge, they will welcome Arsenal on the final day of the season in what will be Arsene Wenger’s final game in charge of the Gunners. If they lose both, they could see themselves returning to the Championship after just one season if Swansea win against Stoke. Both the teams will then be level on points, but the Welsh side have a better goal difference. Here’s how things stand right now:
This relegation battle has turned out to be much more thrilling than we thought it would be a month or so ago, when Southampton, Stoke and West Brom looked like they would finish well adrift off the rest of the pack.