Southampton took a huge stride towards securing their Premier League survival and simultaneously relegated West Brom with victory at Swansea City, who are now perilously close to joining the Baggies in the Championship.
Manolo Gabbiadini’s strike means the Swans are now three points adrift of Southampton – and safety – and will go into Sunday’s final game of the season occupying the final relegation spot.
Southampton’s considerably better goal difference over Swansea means even a defeat at Manchester City will keep them up, as long as the Swans do not make up a 10-goal swing when they face Stoke.
Huddersfield are 17th, level on points with Southampton, but have a game in hand at Chelsea on Wednesday – a point at Stamford Bridge would be enough to keep the Terriers up.
With so much at stake, both sides seemed gripped with anxiety in a goalless first half which produced only a handful of chances at either end.
The tension increased after the break as Saints keeper Alex McCarthy saved brilliantly from Jordan Ayew, before Charlie Austin missed one glorious opportunity as he directed a free header straight at Lukasz Fabianski.
Fabianski thwarted Austin again from a corner in the 73rd minute but, from the rebound, substitute Gabbiadini bundled the ball in to spark manic celebrations in the away end.
Saints all but seal survival after hotel confusion
A match of this enormity did not need its fires stoking, but it was given an added layer of intrigue with the news that Southampton’s stay at their hotel in Swansea was cancelled at the last minute, meaning they had to stay at a different venue near Cardiff.
The hotel said they followed “normal procedures” after an illness outbreak.
Despite having less possession for much of the game, the Saints had the two best chances to score but on both occasions Austin saw his efforts saved by Fabianski.
The striker was a reliable outlet for the visitors, though his service was sporadic as neither team was able to play with much coherence.
|How Southampton’s managers have fared during the 2017-18 season|
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The longer the game remained goalless, the more the tension rose to almost unbearable levels.
Knowing a draw might not be enough with a fixture against Manchester City to come on Sunday, Hughes decided to go for broke and brought on striker Gabbiadini for defender Jan Bednarek.
It proved an inspired move, with the Italian scoring within five minutes of his introduction to take Southampton within touching distance of Premier League safety.
‘Swans have lost their identity as they stand on the brink’
A winless run of seven matches meant Swansea were starting a match in the relegation zone for the first time since 3 March; the afterglow of their initial transformation under Carlos Carvalhal fading rapidly.
The Swans were bottom of the Premier League and seemingly destined for relegation when the Portuguese was appointed in December and his impact was immediate, with a run of five wins in nine league games lifting them out of the bottom three.
However, Carvalhal’s side had become devoid of confidence in recent weeks, scoring only two goals in their sequence of seven games without victory.
The home side pressed their opponents at times – fashioning a couple of efforts on goal from Andy King and Sam Clucas – but after they fell behind, such determination looked more like desperation.
The sight of the Swans’ players aimlessly lumping long balls into Southampton’s penalty area was indicative not only of their dismal form this season, but of the way in which the Welsh side – once renowned for their attractive playing style – have lost their identity.
Swansea have flirted with relegation too frequently in recent campaigns and, after the constant changing of managers and upheaval off the field, their seven-season stay in the Premier League looks like it is coming to an end.