Southampton’s final away game of the 2022/23 season ended in a 3-1 defeat at Brighton, but there was at least some positive news to salvage from another disappointing day as Tino Livramento made his long-awaited return to action for the side.
The full-back was introduced as a 76th-minute substitute at Amex Stadium, the same ground at which he suffered the ACL injury that sidelined him 13 months ago.
Livramento arrived to a rousing ovation from the away end, who were also able to cheer the introduction of youngsters Dom Ballard and Kami Doyle for their Premier League debuts.
Tino Livramento was back in the squad at Brighton (Photo: Matt Watson)
However, there was little else to lift the mood of the travelling supporters, as Evan Ferguson’s double and a Pascal Gross strike gave Brighton all three points, with Saints only able to register through Mohamed Elyounoussi’s header early in the second half.
Rubén Sellés made three changes for the game, as James Bree, Elyounoussi and Joe Aribo came into the line-up, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Stuart Armstrong and Paul Onuachu dropping to the bench.
Also among the substitutes were Livramento, who was making his return to the squad more than a year on from the cruel knee injury he suffered at this very stadium, as well as youngsters Ballard and Doyle.
Aribo led the line for Saints from the beginning, with Charly Alcaraz and James Ward-Prowse in support behind him, Elyounoussi wide left and Theo Walcott on the other side.
With a win enough to almost certainly seal a European place for Brighton, the pressure and expectation was very much on the hosts, and they carved out the first big chance of the game when the lively Kaoru Mitoma pounced on a loose ball 25 yards out, charged into the area and shifted into space in a central position, only to put his low shot wide of the post when it looked likely he would score.
On 17 minutes, Saints would create a chance equally as good, if not better.
Alcaraz won the ball in midfield and played it into Walcott, starting a three-on-one for the visitors, which ended with Walcott dragging the defender out of position and playing Alcaraz through on the overlap, but his first-time shot sliced wide of Jason Steele’s near post.
Charly Alcaraz reacts after missing a chance to put Saints ahead (Photo: Matt Watson)
If those two opportunities were big, then the one that arrived on 21 minutes for Brighton was enormous. Again, though, it somehow did not result in a goal, as Mitoma pounced on a misplaced pass from Alex McCarthy, drove through one-on-one and dinked the ball over the Saints keeper, only for his effort to strike the post and bounce back out to safety.
There was no escape for Southampton on 29 minutes, however, as the home side’s pressure finally told. There didn’t look to be a huge amount to worry about, as Alexis Mac Allister played a pass to Ferguson on the right side of the area, but his low shot from 18 yards squirmed under the body of McCarthy and found the back of the net.
Saints could have equalised shortly after, as a neat one-two between Walcott and Aribo put the former through on an angle, but he tried to bend a shot into the far corner with the outside of his right foot, only to send the effort well wide.
It proved costly, as Brighton doubled their lead five minutes from the interval, again via Ferguson.
This time Mitoma was the provider, racing down the left and sending a low ball across the box that Ferguson calmly rolled back into the far corner. Saints, however, were furious that Mitoma hadn’t been penalised in the build-up for pulling down Roméo Lavia, but their protestations resulted in nothing either from referee Paul Tierney or VAR.
Half time brought no changes for Saints, and there was also little alteration to the pattern of the game as Brighton continued to control proceedings in the early stages of the second half.
Yet Sellés’s side survived the pressure and brought themselves back into the game with a goal on 58 minutes. It came via a James Ward-Prowse corner, as he whipped the ball to the near post area, where Elyounoussi got a flick to divert it into the far corner of the net.
Mohamed Elyounoussi reacts after scoring for Saints (Photo: Matt Watson)
Saints then thought they had equalised only four minutes later, as Ward-Prowse played Walcott through on goal and he produced a brilliant finish to lift the ball over Steele, only to then have a VAR review identify him as being offside by the narrowest of margins.
Shortly after that, Brighton would restore their two-goal advantage, as a low shot from Pascal Gross snuck past McCarthy at the near post.
Sellés then made his first changes, as Ballard was sent on alongside Kamaldeen and Stuart Armstrong, with Aribo, Elyounoussi and Alcaraz making way. Shortly after, Livramento was brought on to a fantastic reception from the Saints fans, replacing Bree for the final 15 minutes of the match.
Another youngster, Doyle, was then handed his senior debut with a little under ten minutes left on the clock.
Brighton saw out the remainder of the game comfortably, with Saints' season now set to wrap up next week when they host Liverpool on the final day of the campaign.
Brighton: Steele, Veltman (Undav 74), Dunk, Colwill (van Hecke 89), Estupiñán, Gross, Caicedo, Enciso (Buonanotte 46), Mac Allister, Mitoma (Gilmour 88), Ferguson (Welbeck 65).
Unused substitutes: McGill, Ayari, Moran, Peupion.
Goals: Ferguson (29, 40), Gross (69).
Yellow cards: Veltman, Buonanotte.
Southampton: McCarthy, Bree (Livramento 77), Bednarek, Lyanco, Walker-Peters, Lavia (Doyle 84), Ward-Prowse, Elyounoussi (Kamaldeen 71), Alcaraz (S Armstrong 71), Walcott, Aribo (Ballard 70).
Unused substitutes: Bazunu, Ćaleta-Car, Maitland-Niles, Onuachu.
Goals: Elyounoussi (58).
Yellow cards: Bednarek, Alcaraz, Elyounoussi, Bree, Ward-Prowse.
Referee: Paul Tierney.