Southampton produced a remarkable fightback from 2-0 down to beat Burnley 3-2 at St Mary’s and earn a victory that pushes them within touching distance of securing their Premier League status.
Despite falling 2-0 behind in the first half, a stirring rally from Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team meant they picked up a precious win that, at least temporarily, extends their gap over the bottom three to ten points with eight games left in their season.
It had looked like being another bad day at the office for Saints, who were searching for their first home league win since the 1-0 triumph against Liverpool on January 4th, as Chris Wood’s early penalty and a thumping strike from Matej Vydra put the visitors well in command.
But the hosts were deservedly level by half-time, as Stuart Armstrong and Danny Ings netted, before Nathan Redmond continued his resurgent form by volleying in the winner midway through the second half.
For Saints, there were two changes from the team that beat Bournemouth 3-0 in the FA Cup quarter-finals two weeks previously, as Ings and Theo Walcott returned from injury to start up front, with Ché Adams and Moussa Djenepo dropping to the bench.
On the other side, Burnley manager Sean Dyche unsurprisingly kept faith with the same XI that won 2-1 away to Everton before the international break, as he looked for another precious three points on the road.
Indeed, the visitors almost made the perfect start, as Vydra swiped the ball from Kyle Walker-Peters on halfway, before feeding it to Wood who was running in support. Wood then took aim from 18 yards, sending a clever, low shot through the legs of Jan Bednarek and towards the far corner, but Fraser Forster produced a brilliant stop, diving to his left to tip the effort round the post.
Unfortunately, the Saints keeper could do little to deny Wood on 12 minutes, as Burnley took the lead via the penalty spot.
Walker-Peters was judged to have brought down Erik Pieters in the area, lunging in for a tackle on the opposing full-back as he worked his way towards the byline, following an initial tussle between the pair for the ball. To begin with, nothing was given, but a subsequent VAR review culminated in referee Andre Marriner using the pitchside monitor for another look, and he needed little time to reverse his decision and point to the spot.
From there, Wood made no mistake, slamming the ball down the middle as Forster dived to his right, giving Burnley an early advantage.
Saints did respond and created a number of potential openings, only to be met by a frustratingly consistent wall of Burnley defenders, as Redmond, Ings and Walcott all saw strikes in and around the area blocked by their opponents.
Things then got even worse for the hosts, as the visitors doubled their lead in the 28th minute.
It came as a result of a long, high ball forward from centre-back Ben Mee, with Wood winning the flick-on and knocking it perfectly into the path of Vydra, who struck a sweet shot with his left foot from 20 yards that had too much pace on it for Forster to get to.
Saints were in real need of a response now, and they got one almost immediately, as Armstrong pulled a goal back only three minutes later.
A clever move at the conclusion of a string of passes saw James Ward-Prowse slide the ball into Ings 25 yards out and, with his back to goal, the striker played a neat flick with the outside of his foot, diverting it towards the edge of the box and perfectly into the path of Armstrong, whose first-time strike from 18 yards gave Nick Pope no chance and found the bottom corner.
Burnley were forced into a change straight after the goal, as Pieters, who had picked up an injury while attempting to block Walcott’s earlier shot, could not continue and was replaced by Charlie Taylor.
Saints were now pushing for an equaliser before half-time, and it looked like they may get one when Redmond danced brilliantly past a couple of players in the area and into a central five minutes before the break, only to see yet another well-hit low shot blocked by a Burnley defender.
Two minutes later, though, and there was no one from the visiting team to get in the way of the ball, as Saints did pull level.
Walker-Peters sent a pass down the right wing from deep in his own half, with Redmond dummying the ball on halfway. That perhaps served to put off Mee, who got caught out as he attempted to come across and chase after it, allowing the alert Ings to disposses him, race into the area, cut seamlessly inside the sliding James Tarkowski and then nutmeg Pope to make it 2-2.
It almost got even better for Saints in added time, as another attack ended with a loose ball falling to Ibrahima Diallo just outside the box, but, although his right-footed strike looked as though it could be heading for the far top corner, Tarkowski managed to get his head on the shot and deflect it over.
Much like the opening half, the second began with Burnley creating the first major opportunity, but Wood was off target with a header at the near post after Taylor’s left-wing cross had found him six yards out.
There was then a concerning moment for Saints, as Jan Bednarek took a hard tumble after leaping above Wood to win a high ball, but, despite remaining down for a while after the painful fall, he was fortunately able to continue.
It had been a fairly quiet start to the half from the hosts, but Hasenhüttl’s team sprang into life on the hour mark, with a flurry of big chances.
First, Ward-Prowse saw a thumping effort from 20 yards hit the underside of the bar and bounce down onto the line, with Saints hoping for a buzz from Marriner’s watch to signal it had crossed, but, despite the St Mary’s PA system accidentally playing the goal music, it did not come.
Moments later, Armstrong was denied by a sensational Pope save, as the Burnley keeper flung himself low to his right to tip the midfielder’s shot across goal from 18 yards wide.
On 65 minutes, Walcott then shot straight at him, spinning and firing towards goal after being picked out by Walker-Peters’s low delivery.
It felt as if a goal was coming for Saints and the pressure duly told a minute later, as they went 3-2 up.
Ings initially worked space in the area for a low shot, which Pope once again saved brilliantly, but Walcott was sharp to collect the rebound on the byline, clipping a cross to the far post for Redmond, who struck a volley into the net to complete a remarkable turnaround.
They were indebted to Forster on 78 minutes, though, as he produced a flying save to keep out Wood’s shot, which was destined for the far top corner.
Saints’ first change followed soon after, as Mohammed Salisu replaced Armstrong, while Burnley had sent on former Southampton forward Jay Rodriguez in place of Vydra moments earlier.
Forster again then came to Saints’ rescue, saving with his legs from Wood’s header from six yards out.
Hasenhüttl was prompted into his final two changes, as Adams replaced Ings before Djenepo came on for Walcott, ahead of the game going into three added minutes, as Burnley continued to push for an equaliser.
Adams could have put the cherry on the cake with what was almost the final kick, going clean through only to drag his shot wide, but it didn't matter as Saints held on for a vital victory at the start of a big month for the team.
Up next: A visit to West Brom in the Premier League, before attention turns to the Emirates FA Cup semi-final with Leicester.