Gabbiadini all but secures Southampton's Premier League safety
Swansea and Huddersfield left to battle for top flight status as West Brom are relegated
Manolo Gabbiadini celebrates with Charlie Austin after scoring Southampton’s winner against Swansea. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty
Swansea City 0 Southampton 1
A night of high drama and tension ended with Southampton all but securing their Premier League status for another season, Swansea staring relegation in the face and West Bromwich Albion joining Stoke City in the Championship.
Manolo Gabbiadini was the player who delivered the killer blow for Mark Hughes’s team, the Italian coming off the bench to score a scrappy and untidy goal that was worth its weight in gold to Saints.
Swansea are three points adrift of safety with only one game remaining and they will need to beat Stoke at home on Sunday and hope that Huddersfield lose their final two fixtures, against Chelsea and Arsenal, to have any chance of staying up. Southampton can breathe more easily. Hughes’s team are up to 16th in the table, above Huddersfield on goal difference, and realistically can start to plan for another season in the top flight.
This was never going to be an evening for the faint-hearted. Even before a ball had been kicked there were stories surfacing that added layers of intrigue to a fixture that needed no extra buildup in terms of its significance. After complaining their hotel in Swansea was cancelled at short notice, Southampton were caught up in rush-hour traffic on the way to the stadium after their police escort failed to turn up, and then told on arrival they would have to wait on the bus for 25 minutes while the Swansea coach unloaded.
That episode rather set the scene for a game that was played in a pressure-cooker atmosphere. Hughes, looking like he had come straight from the office in his shirt and tie, growled at the officials for every little decision, furious that a throw-in on the halfway line had gone against his team.
Carlos Carvalhal, hands stuffed into the pockets of his overcoat as he paced up and down the touchline, appeared only marginally more comfortable.
On the pitch it was Swansea who took the game to Southampton for much of the opening 45 minutes, controlling possession for long periods and trying to dictate the tempo. Yet the better opportunities fell to the visitors, who looked dangerous on the counter-attack and forced Lukasz Fabianski into a couple of crucial saves.
Charlie Austin, leading the line for Southampton, had both of those chances, the first after he sprinted onto a perfectly weighted pass by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg that picked out the striker’s intelligent run between Federico Fernández and Alfie Mawson. The angle was against Austin, however, and his low drive towards the far corner was comfortably held by Fabianski. The Swansea goalkeeper’s second stop was two minutes before the interval and a collective sigh of relief swept around three quarters of the stadium when Austin’s ferocious volley flew straight into his arms.
Although Swansea were seeing plenty of the ball, the problem – and it has been the story of their season in many ways – was how to carve out clear chances. Sitting deep and content to defend in numbers, Southampton were effectively asking Swansea to break them down and coming up with an answer was always likely to be a problem for Carvalhal’s team.
Andy King snapped into tackles in midfield and Jordan Ayew showed some nice footwork further forward, but that killer pass to prise Southampton open was missing. When André Ayew did manage to dart into the area Jan Bednarek made a superbly timed challenge. King tested Alex McCarthy early on with a low drive from the edge of the area and Sam Clucas’s glancing header from the Welshman’s cross drifted narrowly wide of the far upright later in the first half, but that was the sum total of Swansea’s attacking threat before the interval.
There was an immediate improvement from Swansea in that respect at the start of the second half. Twisting and turning about 25 yards from goal, Jordan Ayew wriggled clear of a couple of players and created the space for a dipping shot that appeared to be arcing over the head of McCarthy until the Southampton goalkeeper superbly tipped the ball over the bar with his right hand.
There was now more of an ebb and flow to the game as it started to become stretched. Austin was denied by Fabianski for a third time as Southampton, playing with a bit more attacking conviction, began to commit more players forward. Remarkably another chance fell to Austin in the area moments later; Hughes was left holding his hand in his hands after the forward nodded the ball straight at Fabianski.
Chasing a goal, Carvalhal introduced Tammy Abraham to give Swansea more of a presence up front, but the breakthrough arrived at the opposite end courtesy of another substitute. From Swansea’s point of view it was a desperately poor goal to concede from a corner. Shane Long kept the ball alive with a far-post header, it was flicked on again by Oriol Romeu and although Fabianski managed to keep out Austin’s shot, Gabbiadini was perfectly positioned to sweep home.