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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Southampton let slip chance to ease relegation fears as Everton strike last-minute equaliser

Mark Hughes' side next face an all-important clash with fellow strugglers Swansea City

REUTERS/Andrew Yates 
REUTERS/Andrew Yates 

A few months ago, a defiant Mark Hughes declared: “I don’t do relegation.” It is harder to make that claim now.

A season that began with the Welshman in charge of Stoke City will end with the Potters in the Championship, and they may yet be joined by his current employers.

Southampton were seconds away from recording back-to-back victories for the first time this season. Then Tom Davies’ shot in injury time took a huge deflection off Wesley Hoedt. It went past Alex McCarthy. Two more points slipped from Southampton’s grasp. This, for them, was the "Hoedt locker".

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As it is, they have escaped from the bottom three. However, they could be plunged back into it when they face relegation rivals Swansea City. They finish the season against champions Manchester City. They may only have one realistic chance to save themselves.

Davies’ late leveller prevented West Bromwich Albion from going down, if only for three days. It was desperately cruel for Southampton.

Nathan Redmond had seemed to offer acceleration on a journey to safety. His introduction may be called a managerial masterstroke. As he replaced the injured Mario Lemina, it was more of an enforced change but the Englishman was a catalyst nevertheless.

Redmond had been demoted from the starting XI. He struck in the 11th minute after he came on, meeting Cedric Soares’ deep cross with a far-post header. It was his first goal for 357 days, a drought that helps explain Southampton’s plight.

Stoke’s relegation cleared one hurdle from Southampton’s path. Swansea’s defeat at Bournemouth was further good news before they even kicked off. Then it was up to them.

They almost did their job. They came to contain. A game played at a sedate tempo to the sound of silence from the majority, until the hosts were booed off at half-time.

Sam Allardyce’s claim he had won the “hearts and minds” of the majority of Evertonians rang still more hollow when he was told, in no uncertain terms, to leave by thousands after Southampton scored and, more remarkably, when Everton levelled. If many Evertonians get their way, this will prove Allardyce’s last home game.

The mediocrity was an indication of how standards have slipped. Allardyce could plead injuries as a mitigating circumstance, and Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney are the latest to be sidelined, but Everton have been mediocre for months.

Southampton counter-attacked effectively in the second half, but if they began aiming for solidity, they could have been behind after three minutes. Davies fizzed a shot wide. They could have conceded again after 13 but Cenk Tosun’s header had too much elevation. Yet Hughes’ side improved thereafter.

They posed no threat for 20 minutes. Charlie Austin let fly from 20 yards. Everton’s newly crowned player of the year Jordan Pickford dived to his right to save. He also denied Oriol Romeu, who shot from long range.

Yet it was indicative when Allardyce brought on a third centre-back at half-time, removing winger Yannick Bolasie. Even if it was to match up with Southampton’s system, it reeked of negativity. When Redmond struck, he then had to summon Oumar Niasse, a second striker, and the lesser-spotted Davy Klaassen, who was granted a rare appearance.

Niasse had an impact. Maya Yoshida brought him down to collect his second caution of the game. It proved the pivotal moment. Southampton could not hang on even though goalkeeper McCarthy made a superb save to keep out Leighton Baines’ free kick.

But then Idrissa Gueye found Davies. Hughes, a former Everton player, was denied by his old club and Southampton remain imperilled.