Southampton were relegated from the Premier League after being beaten 2-0 at home by Fulham on Saturday, bringing an end to their 11-year spell in the English top flight.
The defeat means Southampton, who needed a win to stave off relegation, can no longer reel in 17th-placed Everton. Ruben Selles’ side are bottom of the league on 24 points from 36 games, while Fulham’s win moves them up to ninth.
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“It’s disappointing. It is a moment that has been coming. We knew we had put ourselves in a difficult position,” Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse said.
“I believe we should be performing at a better level than we have done and we have not done that on a consistent basis. The standards have slipped away and that is why we are where we are now.”
Ward-Prowse, who came through Southampton’s academy, has made 341 Premier League appearances for the club, but could leave in the close season transfer window.
“Over the last 10 years we have had that kind of consistency and that has wavered. It will be testing for everybody but these are the times that make you as a player and as a club, we have done it before and we will do it again,” the 28-year-old said.
The club’s owners Sport Republic described the relegation as “hugely disappointing”.
“We have fought tirelessly as a club throughout the season, but the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world and our results were simply not good enough to stay there,” they said in a statement.
“While this outcome is distressing for all of us, now is the time to demonstrate unity.
“Our work begins today to return Southampton Football Club — an inaugural member of the Premier League with a rich history — to where it belongs. Our goal is to return to the Premier League as soon as possible and ensure that we stay there.”
In a scrappy and disjointed opening 45 minutes on Saturday, neither side were able to take control of the game, with Fulham having more possession and slightly better attempts but no luck in front of goal.
Both teams tried to play with more attacking intent in the second half, as Carlos Alcaraz had a goal disallowed before Carlos Vinicius latched on to a loose ball in Southampton’s box and tapped home the opener for Fulham in the 48th minute.
Substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic then marked his return from an eight-match ban with a goal, sealing the win for Fulham at St Mary’s Stadium with a stooping header in the 72nd minute.
Southampton had the lion’s share of possession in the closing spell, but were unable to create anything of note and prevent a return to the second-tier Championship, with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Southampton native, watching from the stands.