LONDON - Southampton almost certainly secured its Premier League survival after Manolo Gabbiadini’s second-half goal gave it a 1-0 win over Swansea City on Tuesday that left its relegation rival 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, which hosts champion Manchester City on Sunday, for it to drop out of the top flight.
Swansea, on the other hand, needs to win its final game against already relegated Stoke City and hope Huddersfield Town loses at Chelsea on Wednesday and at home to Arsenal on Sunday.
While not mathematically safe, Southampton manager Mark Hughes, who was fired by Stoke earlier in the season, was in party mood at fulltime, 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 is 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 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.