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Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Sunday, 4 May 2008 15:57 UK

Southampton 3-2 Sheff Utd

Stern John
John was Southampton's hero, but came close to being the villain

Southampton secured their Championship status with a rollercoaster win that saw them relegate Leicester, who had been a place above them in the table.

Saints went behind to a Stephen Quinn header but Marek Saganowski levelled.

Stern John then put Southampton in front and on course to stay up before substitute Jonathan Stead's equaliser.

John struck again to save Saints from relegation but the striker was sent off on 80 minutes and the hosts were forced to endure a tense finish.

Saints fans watched their 10-man team protect a narrow lead for the final 10 minutes knowing that a United equaliser would see them fall below both Coventry and Leicester and into the relegation zone.

The Foxes, who started the day ahead of Southampton on goal difference, could have saved themselves and condemned Coventry, who lost 4-1 at Charlton, to the drop by matching Saints' result but were held 0-0.

Southampton's task had been made more difficult by the fact they faced a Sheffield United side who went into the match knowing they had a chance to sneak into the play-off positions.

And the Blades began in determined form, veteran midfielder Gary Speed seeing a header deflected over the top and Rob Hulse shooting high and wide.

The sell-out St Mary's crowd began to find their voice as the hosts settled and came into the game.


But they were stunned into silence on 23 minutes when Billy Sharp curled in a deep cross from the right which Quinn met with a firm header back across Richard Wright and into the net.

Saints responded and Saganowski twice came close to equalising, with a header which hit Matt Kilgallon and a point-blank drive blocked by Paddy Kenny.

However, the Blades were denied what could have been a killer second goal by a superb save by Wright from Kilgallon's header.

Moments later, St Mary's erupted when Euell's swirling cross was converted by Saganowski at the far post.

A re-energised Saints emerged after the break and six minutes into the second half Saganowski lofted the ball into the box and John cracked a shot into the roof of the net.

At that point, Saints were on course to avoid the drop as Leicester were being held by Stoke.

Yet there were more twists to come and United substitute Stead levelled when he poked home Quinn's cross from close range.

Once again, Saints were back in the bottom three by goal difference and heading for League One.

But they were not to be denied and on 69 minutes John latched on to John Viafara's header, turned inside the area and shot low past the wrong-footed Kenny.

Still there was more drama when John was shown the red card for his second bookable offence when he fouled Derek Geary.

Yet despite their numerical disadvantage, Saints held on to send St Mary's into scenes of wild celebration.

  • Southampton manager Nigel Pearson:
    "Relief is the overwhelming feeling at this time.

    "At a number of points it looked like we were going to come out on the wrong side, so obviously I'm delighted.

    "I didn't know the other scores - my staff did but I just wanted to focus on the game. We were up against a side in form - it was never going to be easy."

  • Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell:
    "For a small period at 1-0 we were in the play-offs - I wish the referee had blown up then.

    "It was important that we gave it a go and we did.

    "You merit where you should be over 46 games but credit to them. It was an incredible atmosphere - pure theatre."

    Southampton: Richard Wright, Jermaine Wright, Powell, Perry, Surman, Viafara, Safri, Idiakez (Licka 79), Euell, Saganowski (Lallana 73), John.
    Subs Not Used: Davis, Wright-Phillips, Pericard.

    Sent Off: John (80).

    Booked: John.

    Goals: Saganowski 42, John 53, 69.

    Sheff Utd: Kenny, Geary, Kilgallon, Naysmith, Halls, Cotterill (Gillespie 38), Speed, Tonge, Quinn, Hulse (Stead 63), Sharp (Shelton 56).
    Subs Not Used: Bennett, Armstrong.

    Booked: Speed, Shelton.

    Goals: Quinn 23, Stead 65.

    Att: 31,957

    Ref: Phil Joslin (Nottinghamshire).

    see also
    Sunday football as it happened
    04 May 08 |  Football
    Stoke 0-0 Leicester
    04 May 08 |  Championship
    Championship photos
    04 May 08 |  Football

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