Southampton will “do everything” to reach 40 points after they took a huge step towards preserving their Premier League status for next season with victory over Wolves.
Nathan Redmond scored twice and substitute Shane Long scored a third after the break as the Saints moved eight points clear of 18th-placed Cardiff, who lost 2-0 at Burnley, with five games remaining.
The 40-point mark has often been a target set by managers to secure Premier League survival.
“We lost here not long ago against Cardiff and it seemed it [battle against relegation] would go right to the end, so we are very happy,” said manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, who took over at the start of December when his club were in a precarious position.
“I can guarantee we will do everything we can to get to 40 points.”
Despite knowing their safety was far from certain, the tension was not noticeable among the Saints players who made a stunning start when Redmond slotted in the opener.
Josh Sims, making his first Premier League start this season and big influence in the match, squared the ball to the feet of his team-mate who fired high past Rui Patricio at the near post.
Wolves equalised when Willy Boly headed in but soon after the restart the home side were back in front when Redmond clipped a shot over the Portuguese keeper.
Substitute Shane Long settled any nerves among his team-mates and the home fans when he poked in Southampton’s third in the 71st minute.
Rejuvenated Saints shine at St Mary’s
The match began under grey skies and ended in sunshine as Southampton all but ensured their place in the English top flight for the 2019-20 campaign.
When Austrian Hasenhuttl took over before festive period, Saints were 18th with only nine points from 15 games. Since then, wins over the likes of Arsenal, Everton, Leicester and Tottenham have seen his rejuvenated side steadily ease away from the mire.
What Southampton fans will also be pleased by is their new manager’s style of play, which is far more cavalier than the approach adopted by predecessor Mark Hughes.
Forward Redmond is one player who appears to be revelling in it. Having not scored until Hasenhuttl took the reins, he has now netted seven times.
His two finishes were those of a confident player. The first was instinctive and the second was well improvised after Patricio tried to close down the space.
If he continues this rich form into next season then perhaps Redmond might find himself with a regular spot in Gareth Southgate’s England side having been a stalwart at youth level.
Both Sims, 22, who was on loan at Reading this season, and fellow forward Danny Ings also impressed in an excellent attacking display.
Wolves fail to fire
As for Wolves, they could still finish seventh which would be the highest-placed finish by a newly-promoted team to the Premier League since Ipswich came fifth in the 2000-01 season.
Despite going behind early on, there appeared to be no hangover from last week’s FA Cup semi-final defeat as they began to control possession.
Their equaliser, courtesy of Boly’s header, was deserved following a spell of heavy pressure, but a lapse in concentration at the back meant they were behind once again only two minutes later.
What will be disappointing for manager Nuno Espirito Santo is that his players failed to trouble Saints keeper Angus Gunn.
This season’s top scorer Raul Jimenez should have, but he was guilty of a woeful volley from eight yards out.
Man of the match – Nathan Redmond (Southampton)
‘The second half was poor’ – match reaction
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo: “Our defensive structure was not the best – it is something that we have to look at.
“After we conceded the opener we controlled the game well and made chances until we drew level. We then went behind and were not able to stand up again and the second half was poor.
“We left too many spaces and we allowed them to play. Today they were better than us and we have to regroup and bounce back immediately. Our trip to Spain was planned before and we feel it is a good moment to have an opportunity to train and be together.”
Redmond’s goal quickest since Van Dijk – the stats
- Southampton have won eight of their 18 Premier League games under Ralph Hassenhuttl, as many as they had won in 52 games under their two previous permanent managers combined (Mark Hughes managed three from 22 and Mauricio Pellegrino managed five from 30).
- Wolves are winless in their last five Premier League away games (D2 L3), and have lost back-to-back league games on the road for the first time this season.
- Southampton have won six of their 13 Premier League games so far in 2019, as many as they had won in the whole of 2018 (P37 W6 D13 L18).
- Wolves have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 13 Premier League away games – only Arsenal (15) have had, and are currently enduring, a longer such run in the competition this season.
- Redmond’s opener after a minute and 34 seconds was Southampton’s quickest in a Premier League game since December 2016, when Virgil van Dijk netted after 1min 9secs seconds against Tottenham.
- There were just 118 seconds between Boly’s equaliser and Redmond restoring Southampton’s lead.
- Redmond scored just his second Premier League brace and his first since March 2017 against Watford.
- Long has scored in back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since May 2016.
The Saints are at Newcastle next Saturday (17:30 BST) and Wolves host Brighton on the same day (15:00 BST).