Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder reflected on the home defeat to Southampton as a game too far for his depleted squad.
The relegation-haunted Blades were unable to build on their morale-boosting midweek win against Aston Villa, which offered a glimmer of hope that they might be able to pull off the greatest of escapes.
Saturday’s 2-0 loss, a 22nd Premier League defeat of the season, leaves Wilder’s side 12 points adrift of safety with just 10 matches remaining to save themselves.
It was an all so familiar story – playing well, making chances, but shooting themselves in the foot at the other end with poor defending and individual mistakes.
“I thought it was a great opportunity, but the better side won,” said Wilder, who was without Phil Jagielka, Chris Basham, Jack O’Connell, John Egan, Jack Robinson, Jack Rodwell and Sander Berge through injury and suspension.
“There wasn’t a lot in it in the first half but in the second half we looked tired in body and mind. In the second half we made mistakes, gave the ball away cheaply and allowed them to build momentum.
“The second half was extremely poor from our point of view. It looked a game too far for us. I’m looking back at it now thinking we needed to make some changes – but we can’t. We looked tired. It was a difficult watch for me the second half today and the correct result happened.
“We needed some energy and spark and quality and we couldn’t find it. We were chasing and having a go but leaving ourselves open and Aaron (Ramsdale) has kept the scoreline down.”
Ralph Hasenhuttl marked his 100th game as Southampton manager with a long-awaited and much-needed victory.
Goals from James Ward-Prowse and former Blade Che Adams gave Saints a first win in 10 matches and stopped their alarming slide, moving them 10 points clear of the bottom three.
“We knew it was an important game for us as we hadn’t won in a long time, it gives you the belief,” said Hasenhuttl.
“There was no reason to panic as we knew we had some injuries and hadn’t had our best side on the pitch. To compete in the Premier League you need your best players on the pitch and when we have that we are a different side.
“I had a good feeling from the beginning, even when we lost Ingsy (Danny Ings), as I felt we had the tools to beat them. It is important we have 33 points now and it will let us sleep a little better.”
Saints were dealt a blow after 12 minutes when Ings went down injured off the ball and had to be replaced by Adams, who scored the second goal shortly after half-time – a superb 25-yard strike on the half-volley which flew into the top corner.
On Ings’ injury, and Adams’ subsequent contribution, Hasenhuttl said: “It doesn’t look so good. When you see the history of our muscle injuries you can be sure he will be out for a few weeks.
“But Che did well. The tough ones he makes and the easy ones sometimes not. Hopefully this will help his confidence as it is a brilliant goal and I am very happy for him.”