Thursday 24 May 2018

Saints alive as Gabbiadini hits £100m goal

Swansea 0 Southampton 1

Saints boss Mark Hughes celebrates with first team coach Kelvin Davis after vital win at Swansea. Photo: Reuters
Saints boss Mark Hughes celebrates with first team coach Kelvin Davis after vital win at Swansea. Photo: Reuters

Sam Wallace

There are moments in a manager's life when the right decision can be made for you, and perhaps there was some of that serendipity when Mark Hughes glanced at his bench in the second half and summoned his striker Manolo Gabbiadini to try to keep Southampton in the Premier League.

The Italian's goal minutes later won this relegation shoot-out, an instinctive finish with the ball loose in the penalty area, and now it looks as if the club that once reached the coat-tails of the Premier League elite will still be around in that division next season.

Manolo Gabbiadini is congratulated by Shane Long after scoring for Southampton. Photo: Reuters
Manolo Gabbiadini is congratulated by Shane Long after scoring for Southampton. Photo: Reuters

Gabbiadini had not scored in the league since February 24, and this was just his fourth goal of a forgettable season, but every player has his moment and this was surely his.

Gabbiadini might have been coming on whatever the situation, but it was an injury to the Saints defender Jan Bednarek, thumped accidentally by his own goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, that finally made up Hughes's mind and within minutes the Italian had struck the decisive goal.

For Southampton, this win lifts them to 16th and three points clear of 18th-placed Swansea with a goal difference that is nine better and one last game to play.

It was a result that relegated West Bromwich Albion and realistically, given the relative strength of Saints' goal difference, Swansea or Huddersfield Town will also be doomed to play in the Championship next season.

Swansea's Alfie Mawson (centre) looks on as Southampton's Manolo Gabbiadini celebrates scoring his side's goal. Photo: PA
Swansea's Alfie Mawson (centre) looks on as Southampton's Manolo Gabbiadini celebrates scoring his side's goal. Photo: PA

For Huddersfield, it is Chelsea tonight at Stamford Bridge followed by Arsenal at home on the final day of the season.

And, given that Swansea play the already-relegated Stoke City in their last game, David Wagner's team need a point to be sure.

Swansea are not quite down just yet, but they know that this was an opportunity and it passed them by without ever really putting Saints under the kind of pressure they will have expected.

There were six long minutes at the end to compensate for Bednarek's injury when Southampton will have feared a repeat of those two dropped points at Goodison Park last Saturday, but they held out and the reaction on the Southampton bench was telling. They were sure they have done enough to survive.

Southampton's Dusan Tadic (right) and Oriol Romeu celebrate. Photo: PA
Southampton's Dusan Tadic (right) and Oriol Romeu celebrate. Photo: PA

It looked for long periods of the first half just as you would imagine an end-of-season game between two desperate teams might look, when there was so much hanging on one piece of brilliance or one mistake.

There were two five-men defences and a lot of players compensating for what they lacked in ingenuity with plenty of energy.

Neither team controlled possession, although Swansea had more of it, and if anything the best chance was for the away team.

That was the ball Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg slipped down the right channel for Charlie Austin on 31 minutes which the striker could not catch with the requisite power to force it past Lukasz Fabianski from the best position he could muster.

Austin had scuffed a shot earlier and then towards the end of the half he connected well with a volley at the back post that was directed straight at Fabianski.

Swansea's Alfie Mawson is consoled after the match. Photo: Reuters
Swansea's Alfie Mawson is consoled after the match. Photo: Reuters

For all the nervousness on the pitch, it was the Saints striker who looked the most likely to find a crack in the Swansea defence - it just needed to come before he ran out of the energy to chase the lost causes that Hughes demands of him.

At the other end, the Ayew brothers hurled themselves at the Saints defence with plenty of enthusiasm and notably from the very start of the game, Jordan forcing his way through early on and almost creating a chance for Andre.

There was precious little width for either side, however, with wing-backs dropping deep at every occasion they sensed danger and both sides seeming to try to anticipate the error.

Hughes was without arguably his best player, the Gabon midfielder Mario Lemina, who came off at Goodison Park with a hamstring problem.

They missed his ability to break through the lines and the quality of their passing in the final third was rarely good enough to keep the ball further up the pitch.

In his technical area, Hughes was permanently furious with the unfortunate linesman within earshot.

Before the game the Saints manager had channelled his best efforts into precipitating a bookings slump at the local Marriott that cancelled the squad's booking - "one of the poorest hotels we stay in" - and it seemed to have done nothing to dissuade him that the world was against him.

His team started the second half the better side, once McCarthy had reached a glove to slap a shot from Jordan Ayew over the bar.

The Saints goalkeeper looked particularly strong all night, especially coming for corners which he caught and punched confidently, even catching his centre-back Bednarek in the process to end the Pole's involvement.

Hughes' instincts were right and finally the goal came from a corner that turned back into the area by Shane Long at the back post.

From there, Oriol Romeu volleyed the ball down and Austin got a shot off that looked good enough for a goal before it was blocked. Gabbiadini did the rest.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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