The only thing missing is a big, fat R next to Southampton’s name in the Premier League table. A soaked Ruben Selles ran to the end with a look of guilt – he knows his work wasn’t enough to keep this side in the Premier League.
It would be unfair to blame Selles for this monumental mess of the season. He is only one of three men in the hot spot, and none of them have won more than three league games, while questions will be put to the sensible recruiting department beforehand.
But the Spaniard failed even to make survival look remotely possible. They finished 196 days in the top three this season and looked likely to be relegated all year, but now the equation is simple: win every game and hope Everton don’t pick up another point.
So, as their 11-year stay in the Premier League draws to a close, another team has applied to extend their top-flight status. Forest played with pace, vigor and faith in the first half, scoring three goals, then showed fighting steel defensively to score the important three points.
Taiwo Awoniyi ended his streak with his first league goal for Forest, Morgan Gibbs-White added another from the penalty spot and Danilo allayed any fears of a late return in what seemed like the dictionary definition of a “relegation hexagon”.
Taiwo Awoniyi scored twice as Nottingham Forest clinched a massive win over Southampton
Awoniyi opened the scoring midway through the first half with his first goal since January
The striker then doubled the lead three minutes later with a fierce volley on the turn
the result almost ensured relegation to Southampton, seven points short of safety
MATCH THE FACTS
THE WOODS OF NOTTINGHAM (4-3-1-2): Navas 7.5; Aurier 7 (Worrall 64, 6.5), Niakhate 7, Felipe 7, Lodi 6 (Toffolo 81); Mangala 6.5, Yates 7 (Kouyate 70, 6), Danilo 8; Gibbs-white 8.5; Johnson 7.5 (Boly 81), Awoniyi 7.5 (Surridge 81).
Unused subscriptions: Hennessey, Lingard, Freuler, Ayew.
Manager: Steven Cooper 7
SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1): McCarthy 4; Walker-Peters 5, Bednarek 5, Bella-Kotchap 4 (Lyanco 38, 6), Maitland-Niles 3; Ward-Prowse 6.5, Lavia 6.5; Walcott 5 (Suleman 61, 6), Alcaraz 5 (A Armstrong 76), S Armstrong 6 (Edozie 76); Adams 6.5 (Onuachu 76).
Unused subscriptions: Bazunu, Caleta-Car, Mara, Elyounoussi
Manager: Reuben Selles 5
Judge: Michael Oliver 7.5
The City Ground swayed before kick-off, with a group of Forza Garibaldi fans urging supporters to keep their headscarves up during a deafening rendition of Mull of Kintyre. It’s hard to imagine a better atmosphere in English football than this venue at its best.
Having said that, most here were nervous wrecks in the first 10 minutes. From the bugging mission by Trent Bridge, the overall verdict was do or die for Forest, with two tough away games and a visit from Arsenal.
That statement, however, could mean much more for Southampton, who came here knowing that defeat would almost relegate them.
The Saints got off to a good start and had several chances in the opening ten minutes, with Che Adams and Jan Bednarek both aiming to score.
But all Forest’s fears were quickly assuaged when Taiwo Awoniyi opened the scoring on 18 minutes after a fantastic counter-attack kicked off by Danilo’s perfect pass and completed by Brennan Johnson’s strike for the Nigerian.
It was Awoniya’s first league goal since January 4, also against Saints, which was also Forest’s only away win of the season, with a staggering 27 of 33 points scored at home this season. Ahead of the two away matches, this statistic underscored the importance of this match.
They gave themselves a good chance and just three minutes into Awoniya’s opening they scored twice. After perhaps getting lucky with a first place finish, the buckle was definitely flipped past Alex McCarthy.
Morgan Gibbs-White scored his team’s third goal from the penalty spot after the Saints pulled one goal back
Gibbs-White was to blame for Southampton’s goal but made up for it with a penalty
Forest was in dreamland, and Garibaldi’s scarves soon began swirling above their heads in celebration. Even the animated Greek owner, Evangelos Marinakis, leaned back in his seat and looked relaxed.
Southampton pulled back a mid-game goal in the 25th minute. Morgan Gibbs-White lost possession cheaply as Ruben Selles’ team moved up the pitch, with Charly Alcaraz finishing off a neat pass that left you wondering why the Saints were bottom.
Those thoughts were short-lived, however, as further sloppy decisions at Southampton saw Forest regain a two-goal lead just before half-time. Ainsley Maitland-Niles gave away a stupid penalty and Gibbs-White duly committed with a decent spot kick, straight to the centre.
However, after the break, the picture of this game changed dramatically. Forest now looked nervous and Southampton played with focus and less fear. Shortly after the restart, Lyanco hit a header and the visiting team sensed a comeback.
Danilo finished off a good move to go 4-2 midway through the second half at the City Ground
James Ward-Prowse nervously equalized with his penalty, but Forest managed to hold on
Cooper’s team has been plagued by several second-half surrenders this season. They have conceded 23 points from winning positions this season, more than any side in the league apart from Leicester, as well as top 15 in the league for home visitors.
James Ward-Prowse bombarded Forest’s six-yard box with sparkling set-pieces but Keylor Navas, three-time Champions League winner, showed his experience in dealing with attacking from the air.
But just as the uneasiness seemed to reach a boiling point, Forest dared to step forward – a rarity in the second half – and Danilo scored the fourth goal, following a clever assist from Gibbs-White who received £42.5m. From a long list, a former Wolves man is their best deal since the promotion.
Forest’s victory puts them three points clear of the relegation zone with three matches to play
Forest thought they scored a brilliant fifth goal in the 89th minute with a clever first touch and finish by defender Felipe from a Gibbs-White free-kick, but after a lengthy VAR consultation it was ruled offside.
The men at Stockley Park were called back into action seconds later to award Southampton a penalty when Sam Surridge was ruled out for fouling Romeo Lavia. James Ward-Prowse scored, but it wasn’t enough to avoid defeat.
There were tears and taunts on the away trip, but for the rest of the City Ground, those scarves flew high to toast their biggest win of the season.