Saints slump at Owls
Sheffield Wednesday striker Luke Varney was the architect of Southampton's misery at Hillsborough.
Last Updated: 18/04/09 6:38pm
Luke Varney was the architect of Southampton's misery at Hillsborough as his double secured Sheffield Wednesday a 2-0 victory.
The Saints were never in a contest that underlined just why they look odds-on to be playing League One football next season.
Varney, playing his last game for the Owls before returning to parent club Derby, had two examples of horrendous defending to thank for his two-goal salvo.
Sorry Saints, riddled throughout their line-up with nerves, crashed to an 11th away league defeat and are staring at relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in 49 years.
Wednesday goalkeeper Lee Grant saved brilliantly from Jason Euell shortly before the break and Adam Lallana went close early in the second half, but those chances aside, the visitors played as if they were resigned to the drop.
Francis Jeffers and Sean McAllister both returned to the Owls' starting line-up, while Southampton were unchanged from the side that beat Crystal Palace on Monday.
Jeffers forced the first save of the afternoon, his low angled shot from inside the area pushed away at full stretch by Saints goalkeeper Kelvin Davis.
Varney should have given the home side a 12th-minute lead.
McAllister was set free down the left and Varney, unmarked, blasted the ball over the crossbar at the far post.
Jeffers miskicked Varney's cross at the near post in the 19th minute following more hesitancy among the visitors' back four.
Another Southampton mix-up in the 24th minute was punished by Wednesday after Saints defender Jan-Paul Saeijs gave the ball away to Jeffers on the halfway line.
In an instant Jeffers set Varney clear and the striker held his nerve when running through one-on-one with Davis to sidefoot the ball right-footed, low into the bottom corner.
Varney squandered another gilt-edged chance for the Owls soon after when he headed Etienne Esajas' cross from the left wide before Grant saved well from Euell's powerful volley.
Jeffers was replaced by Jermaine Johnson at half-time, while Saints striker Adam Lallana's curling shot was inches away from hauling his side level in the 54th minute.
Wednesday went close to doubling their advantage when neat work from Marcus Tudgay in the area set up Esajas, but the Dutchman's drive was well blocked by Lloyd James.
Derbyshire referee Rob Shoebridge amazed everyone in a crowd of 24,145 when waving play on after Saeijs had flattened Varney with the clumsiest of challenges just outside the area.
But there was no denying Varney moments later following another calamitous defensive howler.
Saeijs and James let an innocuous throw-in roll between them and Varney nipped in, rounded Davis and rolled the ball into an empty net in the 72nd minute.
It was painful viewing for Southampton's healthy following and their side offered little in the Wednesday half for the rest of the game as Brian Laws' side cruised to their 10th home league win of the season.