Southampton finished their 2019/20 season with a flourish by claiming a stylish 3-1 win over Sheffield United.
Saints fell behind in the first-half when John Lundstrum took advantage of a defensive mistake, but Che Adams fired the hosts at St Mary’s level five minutes into the second period.
Adams claimed his second soon after with another well-taken strike before Danny Ings added a third from the penalty spot to make it 22 Premier League goals for the campaign.
The opening stages of the contest saw an open flow develop and both teams searching for the breakthrough that could prove so pivotal in determining the result.
Both Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse saw opening come and go for Saints, whilst they were thankful to a good smothering block from Alex McCarthy with former St Mary’s regular Billy Sharp on through on goal.
The visitors did soon beat the home goalkeeper though after taking full advantage of a mistake from Jannik Vestergaard.
A cross from wing-back Enda Stevens from the Saints right travelled into the centre of the box and looked simple to deal with. However, Vestergaard missed his chance to make a clearance and allowed the ball to roll to the back post area where John Lundstrum had the simple task of finding the back of the net.
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If this did not act as a wake up call for the hosts then Lundstrum almost adding a second minutes later certainly should have done.
Kyle Walker-Peters surrendered possession to Billy Sharp and the Blades striker broke forward before dinking a cross into the centre of the penalty area towards the unmarked duo of Oli McBurnie and Lundstrum. The latter took one touch to control and fired a fierce volley that looked destined for the top of the net, but Alex McCarthy was equal to it with a superb flying save.
Whilst Saints had dominated the ball in the first period and had a couple of decent openings of their own, half-time gave them chance to refocus on getting back into the game to end the season in a positive way.
They would have wanted a fast start after emerging from the dressing room and duly got that with just five more minutes played.
Sheffield United failed to clear after a Saints attack and multiple ricochets saw the ball spring through to Che Adams. The striker may have delayed his strike earlier this year but his recent form meant that he took one touch before finding the bottom corner of Dean Henderson’s net – his hit too strong for the promising shot-stopper to keep out.
Midway through the second period, the 24-year-old put his side into the lead and it was no less than they and he deserved.
Kyle Walker-Peters’ left-footed shot was well blocked by a defender but crucially the ball fell straight to Adams’ feet, and again the result was the same – just one touch to push the ball into position and another fierce strike to give the goalkeeper no chance.
Many Saints fans will remember seeing Adams in the early season looking short of belief and overthinking things as he searched for the first goal in red and white stripes. Since the restart of the campaign though, he has looked like the player that Saints signed back in the summer and looks to be a real prospect ahead of 2020/21.
There was still time for his strike partner Danny Ings to add to his superb haul from the penalty spot late on to fully confirm yet another win, but sadly his 22 league goals would be trumped by Jamie Vardy’s 23 for Leicester in the race for the Premier League’s golden boot.
It is not time for Ings to dwell on this though – to have a season like he has had for a mid-table team is an achievement in itself and the challenge will be to replicate this in the coming years.
He is just one crucial part of a Saints team that could really blossom in the future. They have a inspirational and committed manager, a team packed full of dynamic and mostly young talent and a few signings could be what is needed to return the club to strong top half contenders at the very least.
McCarthy, Walker-Peters, Stephens, Vestergaard, Bertrand, Romeu (Obafemi 90+1), Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Armstrong (Smallbone 30), Ings, Adams (Long 85)
Subs not used: Gunn, Bednarek, Danso, Vokins, Valery
Sheffield United team
Henderson, Baldock, Basham (Norwood 80), Egan, Robinson, Stevens, Berge, Fleck, Lundstrum, McBurnie (Zivkovic 51), Sharp (Clarke 70)
Subs not used: Moore, Jagielka, Rodwell, Freeman, Osborn,