Southampton were unable to make it back-to-back Premier League victories, as they followed up their dramatic win over Burnley last time out with a disappointing showing away to West Bromwich Albion.
In their final game before Sunday’s Emirates FA Cup semi-final against Leicester, Saints were comfortably beaten by their relegation-threatened opponents at The Hawthorns, as Sam Allardyce’s side dominated proceedings in the Midlands.
Having come from 2-0 down last time out in that triumph against Burnley, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side again found themselves in a similar position here, but there was to be no overhauling the deficit this time around.
Matheus Pereira’s penalty and a Matt Phillips goal had West Brom in a commanding position at half-time, before Callum Robinson struck midway through the second half to seal three points for the hosts and keep their hopes of an incredible escape from the drop alive.
Unsurprisingly, Hasenhüttl stuck with the same XI that beat Burnley 3-2 last time out, while West Brom made only one change from the team that shocked Chelsea 5-2 at Stamford Bridge, as Robinson replaced Semi Ajayi in a move that saw Allardyce sacrifice a defender for an extra forward.
There was certainly no doubting the attacking intent from the hosts, underlining their desperate need for all three points, having begun the evening 11 points short of safety, and they quickly set about swarming all over the Saints defence.
They had the ball in the net as early as the third minute, only to have the goal ruled out for the tightest of offsides. A clever Pereira free-kick from a deep position on the left found the run of Phillips into the area and, after getting the ball under control, he twisted and turned to open up some space, only for Fraser Forster to beat away his angled shot. The rebound fell to the edge of the area, where Darnell Furlong struck the bouncing ball back towards goal, with Mbaye Diagne flicking it in with his head from six yards out.
However, the assistant referee’s flag went up for offside, and a VAR check upheld that decision, with little clear evidence from the replay angles about whether there was any distance between Jannik Vestergaard’s trailing foot and the West Brom player. Still, Saints were not complaining.
They remained very much under pressure, though, as the hosts continued to threaten regularly.
Robinson turned wide from a good position at the near post from Conor Townsend’s low, left-wing cross in the eighth minute, and, although Saints did create a chance shortly after, as Kyle Walker-Peters cleverly spun past Townsend on the byline before drawing a save from Sam Johnstone from a tight angle, it was one-way traffic for a while thereafter.
First, Forster had to save at the near post from Townsend following Robinson’s lay-off in the 12th minute, before a low Phillips cross from the right edge of the area on 15 minutes deflected off Jannik Vestergaard and spun inches over.
The pressure didn’t relent there, either, as Furlong flicked a header wide of the far post after Phillips’s cross had picked him out on the corner of the six-yard box, before Ryan Bertrand then had to get back to stick a foot in and deny Diagne a one-on-one after Pereira looked to have played him through.
Pereira then had a good chance on 21 minutes, as Kyle Bartley flicked on a long throw into the area, but his header from 12 yards was straight at Forster.
Saints then did manage to produce a short flurry of chances, as Danny Ings toe-poked high and wide after cleverly working space in the box, before later turning the ball across the face of goal from a tight angle after a Stuart Armstrong shot on the spin had skewed towards him.
Armstrong himself then tested Johnstone with a curling effort from the top of the D on 29 minutes, but he tipped it wide, and the West Brom keeper was a relieved man from the resulting corner, as a well-worked routine between Bertrand and Nathan Redmond ended with the full-back sending in a low ball that pinged off a few players, before lastly hitting Furlong and going straight into his arms.
In among all that, Diagne missed the best chance of the evening up to that point, being slipped through by Pereira’s smart pass, only to get his shot all wrong, putting it a couple of yards wide as he attempted to curl into the far corner.
But the opener for West Brom did finally arrive just after the half-hour mark, as a swift attack ended with Ainsley Maitland-Niles squaring for Pereira, who skipped past Forster and was upended by the keeper, leaving referee Simon Hooper a simple decision to award a penalty.
Pereira himself took it, and he went straight down the middle as Forster dived to his right, giving the hosts a lead they fully deserved.
From there, it would take them only three more minutes to double the advantage, as Diagne delivered a superb low, curling cross from the left that picked out Phillips running in at the back post, and he stuck out his right foot to divert the ball high into the net for 2-0.
To compound a pretty grim 45 minutes, Saints also then saw James Ward-Prowse booked for a foul on Pereira, before there was concern in added time as Ings went down in pain after Okay Yokuslu stood on the back of his ankle as a clutch of players challenged for a corner.
Fortunately, Ings was able to continue when the teams re-emerged for the second half, but that was about as positive as things had got for Saints.
The start to the second half was at least calmer from a defensive perspective for Saints, as West Brom were much more subdued than they had been during a blistering frost 45 minutes.
Still, the game reached the hour mark without any significant opportunity for Saints to eat into the home side’s advantage.
Armstrong did then produce a well-hit, left-footed strike from 20 yards at the end of a quick break forward, but it was straight at Johnstone in goal.
Shortly after, Redmond saw a penalty appeal turned down, as he drove towards the area and cut inside Bartley, but although their feet clipped, causing the Saints forward to fall, there was not enough for Hooper to deem it a foul.
Any hopes of Saints producing another memorable comeback were then all but extinguished on 69 minutes when Robinson, a menace all night, burst through and slammed a shot past Forster to make it 3-0.
Hasenhüttl’s made a change with 15 minutes left, as Theo Walcott was withdrawn and Ché Adams sent on in his place. The striker quickly went close as he sprinted onto a ball down the inside-right, but his subsequent shot across goal flashed just wide.
Nathan Tella and Moussa Djenepo were then sent on for the final minutes, replacing Ings and Walker-Peters respectively, as the game worked its way towards a now-inevitable conclusion.
There was still time for one last moment of frustration for Saints, though, as they were awarded a penalty in added time when Djenepo was tripped in the box by Townsend, but Ward-Prowse saw his spot kick saved by Johnstone, as he sprung to his right to push the ball away.
With a ten-point gap to the bottom three still intact, Saints remain in a reasonably comfortable position in the table, but this was a result that made their hopes of climbing significantly higher than their current position of 14th that more challenging.
For now, though, attention turns to next Sunday's trip to Wembley, where Saints will certainly need a far better performance if they are to reach their first FA Cup final in 18 years.