Southampton relegated in front of British PM, Man United ignites push for top-four finish
Southampton's 11-year stay in the English Premier League is over, with relegation sealed on Saturday by the 24th loss of a forgettable season and in front of its most famous fan.
Not even the presence of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at St. Mary's stadium could inspire Southampton in its 2-0 home loss to Fulham, which consigned the south-coast team to life in the Championship with two games to spare.
“It is a moment that has been coming,” said James Ward-Prowse, Southampton's England midfielder.
“We knew we had put ourselves in a difficult position. When these things happen you go away individually and as a club and ask if you have done enough? I don’t think we have.”
At the other end of the league, Manchester United has almost done enough to secure a return to the Champions League.
United rebounded from back-to-back losses to ignite its push to reach Europe's top competition with a 2-0 win over Wolverhampton.
United moved level on points with third-placed Newcastle — which drew at Leeds 2-2 — and both teams were four ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool in the race for a top-four finish. All three teams have three games left.
Tottenham dropped out of contention for Champions League qualification after losing 2-1 at Aston Villa, which moved level on points with its beaten opponent. They are fighting for berths in the two minor European competitions — the Europa League and the Europa Conference League — with Brighton, which is two points further back in eighth place but has three games in hand.
With Southampton down, there are two more relegation spots to fill and two of the four teams in most danger — Leeds and Nottingham Forest — showed fighting spirit to avoid the drop.
Leeds' draw with Newcastle came after a battling 2-1 loss at Manchester City and left the team only a point from safety. Forest also drew at Chelsea 2-2 to stay three points above the bottom three.
Crystal Palace beat Bournemouth 2-0 in the other game with Eberechi Eze scoring twice.
Southampton has been relegated at the end of its first full season since last year’s takeover by Sport Republic, an investment firm in the sports and entertainment industry run by Serbian businessman Dragan Solak.
It has been a dismal season marked by bad judgment not just in the transfer market but also in picking managers, with the appointment of Nathan Jones for an abysmal three-month spell in the middle of the campaign proving significant.
Goals by Carlos Vinicius and Aleksandar Mitrovic, in his first game back after an eight-game ban for grabbing a referee, earned Fulham the victory at St. Mary’s.
Southampton was eight points from safety with games to go against Brighton and Liverpool.
Ward-Prowse, who came through the academy, was likely to be the most sought-after player in Southampton's squad during the offseason.
United's home form might see the team into the Champions League.
The win over Wolves for a fourth straight at Old Trafford in the league has recovered United from 1-0 losses to Brighton and West Ham that have given Liverpool an outside shot at the top four.
Martial slotted home in the 32nd minute and substitute Alejandro Garnacho sealed the victory in stoppage time.
Two of United’s final three games are at home, against Chelsea and Fulham.
Newcastle might end up stuttering over the line, too, after the thrilling draw at Leeds followed a 2-0 loss to Arsenal.
The match at Elland Road was marred by a Leeds fan confronting Newcastle manager Eddie Howe and shoving him in the chest during stoppage time. The fan was arrested and handed a lifetime ban.
Howe said he was fine after the incident and added he “was struggling to make sense” of a chaotic match that saw Leeds go ahead in the seventh minute through Luke Ayling, have a penalty from Patrick Bamford saved, concede two more spot kicks converted by Callum Wilson and then have Junior Firpo sent off in stoppage time. Ultimately, Rasmus Kristensen's 79th-minute goal earned Leeds a point.
KANE SCORES AGAIN
Harry Kane scored Tottenham's 90th-minute consolation against Villa to move onto 27 goals for the campaign, eight fewer than Manchester City's Erling Haaland.
Only twice has Kane scored more in a single season — 30 in 2017-18 and 29 in 2016-17.
If the England captain is to stay at Tottenham, he might be playing in the Europa Conference League next season.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press