Southampton v Fulham: Saints can heap more pain on relegated Fulham

Andrew Atherley says Southampton look too strong for the dispirited visitors...

Ings the spark for Saints

This is a dead rubber between two of the most out-of-form teams in the Premier League. Over the past eight matches Southampton rank 17th with seven points and Fulham 19th with four.

Southampton finally got back to winning ways on Tuesday with a 3-1 home victory over Crystal Palace, ending a winless run of five matches in all competitions. That was only their fourth league win of 2021.

Danny Ings returned from a two-match absence to score twice against Palace. Having been substituted shortly after netting the third goal in the 75th minute, he should be fresh enough to make another start.

Jan Bednarek has been an ever-present at the heart of the Saints defence but is unlikely to feature here having come off at half-time on Tuesday night with an ankle injury. Mohammed Salisu, who came on then, is the likely replacement again.

Fulham down and out

Fulham are down after Monday's 2-0 defeat at home to Burnley, which left them 10 points adrift in 18th place with only three games to play.

There was considerable hope for a few weeks up to their 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield on March 7, but they have taken only one point from seven games since then and have gone down tamely in the end.

Four of Fulham's starting XI against Burnley are loan players and Scott Parker may now give chances to his permanent playing staff with a view to next season. In any case, loanee Mario Lemina cannot face parent club Southampton.

Midfielder Harrison Reed, whose last start was a month ago, is still an injury concern.

Strong record for Saints

It is tricky to work out how teams will perform with nothing to play for, especially at the end of this arduous season amid the pandemic, but Southampton appear to be making some effort.

Since losing to Leicester in the FA Cup semi-final four weeks ago, they have taken the lead against Tottenham (losing 2-1) and Leicester (1-1) before fighting back from an early concession for their 3-1 win against Palace.

The Saints' form against other teams in the current bottom eight was exceptional in the first half of the season and their W8 D1 L4 record in that category still looks strong.

Their two recent defeats on that record came before FA Cup games, which had become a major focus by then. If those two results are put to one side, they have won their last three games against bottom-eight sides - 2-0 at Sheffield United, 3-2 at home to Burnley and 3-1 against Palace.

That indicates a good chance against Fulham, whose loss of confidence is reflected by their failure to score in three of their last four games despite their urgent need for points, and Southampton look reasonably priced at 2.06.

Fulham's sole goal in that recent four-game run was Josh Maja's penalty in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal, which was their only shot on target in the match.

What put Parker's side in with a chance of avoiding the drop was their ability to keep matches tight and close, with six clean sheets out of 10 up to the Liverpool win, but the fight has drained out of them and four of their last six defeats have been by two goals or more.

It is difficult to see them fighting for everything now that they have been relegated and their scoring record does not indicate they will fare well if the game opens up.

Fulham have scored more than once in only one of their last 15 league games, while Southampton have found the net in eight of their nine home matches in 2021 despite their overall downturn in form in that period.

Southampton haven't won many games by a clear margin but they might do so here and it looks worth taking a chance on them off -1 on the Asian handicap at 3.15, which is a successful bet if they win by two or more goals, and no bet if they win by a single goal.

Goals might rise

Southampton are mid-table in the goals ranking (51% under 2.5 goals, 49% over) while Fulham are top for under 2.5 goals (69%).

Under 2.5 goals is 1.9 but arguably Fulham won't fight tooth and nail to keep matches tight now that they have been relegated and this match could open up more than it might have done a couple of months ago.

Goals tallies often rise towards the end of the season and both teams to score is worth considering at 1.87.

That has occurred in nine of Southampton's last 14 games, although once again Fulham's figures are strongly in the other direction with both teams having scored in only 14 of their 35 games (40%).

Opta Stat

Fulham's defeat at home to Burnley last time out confirmed their relegation from the Premier League. On the previous two occasions the Cottagers have been relegated from the competition, they've avoided defeat in their very next game after their relegation was confirmed, drawing 2-2 with Crystal Palace in 2013-14 and beating Everton 2-0 in 2018-19. Fulham are 3.9 to win here.

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