Southampton gave their fans a performance to cheer about on a cold Wednesday night at St Mary's, as the Saints lifted themselves out of the relegation zone with a win over Fulham.
Goals from Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse sealed the win for the hosts in a positive performance.
Story of the game
Southampton started the game just as expected, fast with the knowledge of how much they needed the three points.
Quite familiarly, the most potent area of attack for the hosts early on was down the left flank, where Ryan Bertrand and Nathan Redmond combined to cause Fulham trouble from the go.
The visitors were pressured from the kick off against a hungry Saints side, who almost took the lead after just 15 minutes of play through Charlie Austin. Austin headed the ball home after tussling with Sergio Rico in the air, referee Anthony Taylor had already awarded a free kick before Austin converted the header.
The efficiency of the hosts’ attack seemed to rattle Fulham early on, as they were unable to control the game and withstand the pressure in midfield.
Moments after Austin’s chance, Ryan Babel was dispossessed by James Ward-Prowse who played the ball into Redmond. The wide-man's shot was deflected, making it a comfortable save for Rico.
Fulham’s and Rico’s luck ran out shortly after, as Oriel Romeu gave Southampton the lead. Rico failed to clear Bertrand’s corner, and punched the ball into the path of Romeu who was waiting on the edge of the box to fire Saints ahead.
It went from bad to worse for the west Londoners, as James Ward-Prowse doubled Southampton’s lead before half time.
Rico’s confidence was evidently tarnished after the first goal, as he gifted Saints the second. Austin played the ball into Redmond, who had his shot saved by Rico, before the Spaniard spilled the ball for Ward-Prowse to convert.
A dreadful first half for relegation beckoning Fulham.
Fulham returned to the field after the interval and earned their second real chance of the game. Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic went in on goal but fired his shot over the bar, a striker looking stripped of confidence.
The game resumed to the tempo of the first half, with Southampton dominating proceedings and Fulham chasing the game.
After his introduction to the game, it looked like substitute Shane Long was on to grab Southampton’s third, however his shot was blocked by teammate Redmond, who was waiting in the box for a possible rebound.
With 15 minutes to go and little to cheer about, Fulham had a real chance to score through Babel. The Dutchman found some space in the box as Saints failed to regroup, and curled a shot at goal, which hit the crossbar. Fulham fans responded to the chance by singing “We nearly scored” in what was a long night for the travelling faithful.
It was a must win game for Southampton who face two challenging games ahead with a trip to Old Trafford on Saturday, followed by Tottenham Hotspur at home the following week. The win lifted Saints out of the relegation zone, whereas Fulham are now ten points from safety.
Takeaways from the match
Hojbjerg leading the line
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is Southampton’s main man. The midfielder was formidable for the Saints throughout the game and dominated both defensively and in attack. If he can stay fit and in form, Southampton are in for a chance of staying up.
Fulham must look to next season. The visitors were in desperate need of some positivity on Wednesday evening and it showed through their woeful performance. Something needs to give in west London or relegation could become reality sooner than expected.