Southampton were humbled by strugglers West Bromwich Albion as Sam Allardyce’s side eased to a comfortable 3-0 win at the Hawthorns.
The Baggies, whose incredible performance at Stamford Bridge a week ago on Saturday saw them comfortably brush Chelsea aside 5-2, came into the game in confidence making just one change, with Callum Robinson starting after his brace against the Blues. Meanwhile for the Saints, it was a case of ‘if it ain’t broke’ – Hasenhuttl named the same 18 who beat Burnley in their last outing and it was the same starting 11, too.
In a twist to the familiar tale, it was West Brom who started brighter and in another case of the harshest offsides you can get in football, Mbaye Diagne’s early strike was ruled out by VAR. His glancing header after a poor clearance from Danny Ings and a great attempt from Matheus Pereira was ruled out, despite it appearing as if Jan Vestergaard was playing the Senegalese forward onside.
This sigh of relief gave Southampton a chance to regroup, with Kyle Walker-Peters’ brilliant run on 10 minutes allowing him to cut into the area and drive a strike straight towards England ‘keeper Sam Johnstone, who poked the ball behind for a corner, from which Theo Walcott couldn’t muster a real chance for the visitors.
Dominance in the first quarter of the game for the hosts turned over to the visitors. Southampton managed to push forward and threaten the West Brom defence with good chances for Danny Ings. Both chances, though, were well wide of the post.
Sam Johnstone was made to work again moments later, when Stuart Armstrong’s surprising shot from distance led to a corner from which he could safely pick the ball up and slow the game down.
For all their sudden confidence, Southampton would be disappointed just a minute or so later, when Fraser Forster’s completely mistimed challenge on Pereira in the penalty area led to referee Simon Hooper making the easy decision of awarding a penalty to the hosts. Pereira did not make a mistake from the spot and gave the Baggies an admittedly deserved lead.
Moments later, the game started falling out of reach for Southampton when Diagne found acres of space down the left hand side. A quick cross zipped towards Phillips made a rather simple finish look like a much better goal and suddenly the hosts were 2-0 up with two goals in three minutes.
At half-time, it must have been a team talk of ‘just defend the lead’ from Sam Allardyce, as despite all of the possession Southampton had at the start of the second half, they just couldn’t seem to find a way to create any clear-cut chances.
They would have been happy with 2-0, but when an opportunity for a quick break emerged they took it well. Okay Yokuslu picked up the ball in midfield and played a brilliant through ball to Callum Robinson who took his goal nicely, firing past Forster for a third goal in two games and the Baggies’ third of the evening.
As the game rather petered away, a late consolation was on the cards for Southampton as Moussa Djenepo was fouled in the penalty area by Conor Townsend. James Ward-Prowse, normally nailed-on when it comes to set-pieces, had his strong penalty saved by Johnstone, in what was the last chance of the game for either side.
It makes for grim reading for Southampton, who returned to the south coast knowing that they are the worst form team in the league – they have picked up just 10 points in 2021, with even bottom-placed side Sheffield United collecting more points this calendar year than the Saints. In a season where – should Saints fans need reminding – the club saw themselves at the summit of the Premier League table at one point, Southampton are now staring the potential of an unforeseen relegation battle on their hands. As Fulham and West Brom scrap it out with Newcastle, Brighton and Burnley for safety, Southampton are not safe yet. In the form they are currently displaying, too, they are going to need to rely on the teams below them just being worse than them if they are to breathe a sigh of relief come mid-May.
They have the small matter of an FA Cup Semi-Final to concern themselves with at the weekend, as they come up against a similarly out-of-sorts Leicester City side in front of 4,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. Perhaps having a crowd may be the boost that Southampton need – even if it is not made up of many (if any) of their own fans. Missing out on the Final may well be the straw that broke this very strong camel’s back at St Mary’s for Ralph Hasenhuttl.
FT: West Bromwich Albion 3-0 SOUTHAMPTON (Pereira 32′ (pen), Phillips 35′, Robinson 69′).
West Brom: Johnstone, Furlong, O’Shea, Bartley (Ajayi 85′), Townsend, Phillips, Yokuslu, Maitland-Niles, Pereira, Robinson (Gallagher 72′), Diagne (Robson-Kanu 76′). Unused Subs: Button, Gibbs, Livermore, Diangana, Peltier, Grant.
Southampton: Forster, Walker-Peters (Djenepo 87′), Bednarek, Vestergaard, Bertrand, Armstrong, Ward-Prowse (booked), Diallo, Walcott (Adams 76′), Ings (Tella 87′), Redmond. Unused Subs: McCarthy, Stephens, Minamino, Salisu, Ferry, Jankewitz.
Wessex Scene Man of the Match: Matt Phillips (West Brom).
Referee: Simon Hooper.