Southampton fell to a 3-0 loss to West Bromwich Albion in their penultimate Premier League home game at St Mary’s.
A sixth-minute Marc-Antoine Fortune strike separated the sides at the interval following a pretty unremarkable first-half that the Saints just about edged in terms of possession.
Romelu Lukaku doubled his side’s advantage with 67 minutes gone before referee Robert Madley sent three players off in a feisty finish to the match.
Gaston Ramirez saw red for elbowing Shane Long, while Fortune was red carded for pushing the Uruguayan in the face in the melee that followed.
Long then added a third goal to send the travelling faithful into raptures before Madley – officiating his first game in the English top-flight – was left no option but to also dismiss Danny Fox after a two-footed lunge on Steven Reid.
Having secured a goalless draw away at Swansea last weekend that ushered the Saints closer to mathematical safety, Mauricio Pochettino elected to name an unchanged side for the visit of West Bromwich Albion with Ramirez once again amongst the substitutes, meaning the in-form Jay Rodriguez was in support of Rickie Lambert.
West Brom have faltered badly since the turn of the year after a promising start to the season, but a strong finish could still mean that Steve Clarke’s men finish the season with a best-placed finish since 1981.
And despite being without injured captain Chris Brunt and suspended Youssouf Mulumbu, Clarke’s men made a confident start in the knowledge that a win would take them above their record Premier League points haul as they targeted the space in between Jos Hooiveld and Fox.
And it was indirectly through that approach that they took the lead. Lukaku should have scored when he was found in space by Reid but Artur Boruc made a smart save with his feet.
However, the young Belgian made almost immediate amends when he headed the resultant corner down to Fortune, who followed up his own saved shot to give the visitors the lead.
The Saints looked for an immediate riposte but, while their approach play was considered, they failed to deliver a final ball in the next twenty minutes that they dominated in terms of possession as the Baggies’ back four did well to negate the threat of Lambert.
Despite their almost constant pressure, Pochettino’s men always looked susceptible as the visitors threatened on the break but Lukaku passed up two more presentable chances as the half progressed, with Boruc again making smart saves.
The Saints' sole chance from their pressure was denied by a sharp Ben Foster save from a driven Nathaniel Clyne effort as the Baggies took a well-deserved lead to the interval.
Clyne illustrated the fragility of a one-goal advantage when he struck the upright from an almost impossible angle with ten minutes of the second period gone, but, with a front three of Fortune, Long and Lukaku dovetailing intelligently, the Baggies offered an almost constant threat on the break.
And despite Southampton dominating possession, they had no more chances to speak of for their efforts when Fortune turned smartly in midfield to feed Lukaku, who galloped away from Clyne, rounded Boruc and doubled his side’s advantage.
Despite being two behind, Southampton were still in the game by virtue of their superior possession but Ramirez – a half-time introduction – pretty much cost them the game when he foolishly elbowed Long as the Irishman snapped at his heels with twenty minutes to go.
Fortune was also shown a red, but the loss of one of their main attacking threats all but ended Southampton’s hopes of getting anything from the game.
Long then latched on to a Lukaku through-ball to add further gloss to an already polished away day performance with a calm finish to give his side a three goal advantage with 77 minutes gone.
It had turned into a wretched day for the hosts, and their misery was compounded by Fox as he flew into a two-footed challenge inside the last ten minutes to mean they finished with nine men.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Romelu Lukaku (West Brom) – scored one and made two in a dominant performance and it is little wonder that the Baggies would like to extend his loan beyond the end of the season.
Southampton: Boruc 5, Clyne 5, Yoshida 5, Hooiveld 5, Fox 3, Schneiderlin 6, Cork 5, S. Davis 6, Rodriguez 5, Lallana 5, Lambert 5. Subs: Fonte 5, Ramírez 2, Mayuka 5.
West Brom: Foster 6, Reid 6, McAuley 6, Olsson 6, Ridgewell 6, Yacob 5, Dorrans 7, Fortune 4, Morrison 5, Lukaku 8, Long 7. Subs: Thomas 6, Jones 6, Rosenberg 6.