By Ed Elliot, PA
Captain James Ward-Prowse has “full confidence” Southampton can make a swift return to the Premier League following the pain of relegation.
Saints’ fate was sealed by Saturday’s listless 2-0 defeat to Fulham – a club-record 24th league loss in a single season.
England midfielder Ward-Prowse has been with Southampton since the age of eight but is already being linked with a summer move away from St Mary’s.
Captain James Ward-Prowse speaks following a bitterly disappointing afternoon:
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) May 13, 2023
The 28-year-old, who insists he is “not thinking too far ahead” regarding his own future, is optimistic Saints will bounce back from surrendering the top-flight status they have held since 2012.
“(I’ve) full confidence, I think the club’s been there and done it,” he told Southampton’s website.
“The squad that we’ve got now is incredibly young and they’ve got a lot to learn.
“They will have learnt a lot from this year and next year I’m sure the club will be doing everything they can to be back in the Premier League.”
Southampton were precariously placed for much of a miserable campaign, having continually occupied the bottom three since early November.
Second-half goals from Fulham pair Carlos Vinicius and Aleksandar Mitrovic condemned Ruben Selles’ side to the drop with two games to spare.
Today’s results mean @SouthamptonFC will be relegated from the #PL at the end of the 2022/23 season pic.twitter.com/bI4sENjUgA
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 13, 2023
Spaniard Selles was the team’s third manager this term following the sackings of Ralph Hasenhuttl and Nathan Jones.
Ward-Prowse concedes warning signs were present for a long time and admits Saints ultimately went down to the Sky Bet Championship with a whimper.
“It’s something, in all honesty, we’ve been fearing for a little while,” he said.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve not been performing at the level I believe we should be and I think this season’s caught up with us.
“There’s a way to lose games, there’s a way to maybe fail in sport and I think the way we’ve done it this year, that’s the disappointing way.
“I don’t feel we’ve really gone down with a fight and given everything we can.
“I feel for the fans because they don’t deserve to see what we’ve produced this season and that’s the sad thing.”
Victory for Fulham was a club-record 15th in a Premier League season to tighten their grip on a top-half spot.
Winger Harry Wilson, who was involved in each of the Cottagers’ goals on the south coast, hopes to increase the impressive points haul of 51 going into a home game against Crystal Palace and a trip to Manchester United.
“It’s not something I was aware of but it’s something we’ve earned throughout the season,” he said of the record.
“We’ve shown that we can win different ways, so to get 15 wins and the record is great.
“We’ll definitely enjoy them (the final two games) but we also know there’s a lot to play for and we want to make sure we get two wins.”
Substitute Mitrovic returned from his eight-match ban with a bang by heading home seven minutes after replacing fellow goalscorer Vinicius.
The Serbia striker was punished for grabbing referee Chris Kavanagh during his side’s 3-1 FA Cup loss at Old Trafford in March.
Wilson is already eyeing revenge against United on the final weekend following the heated cup exit in which Mitrovic, Willian and manager Marco Silva were sent off.
“We were really good for 70 minutes and we all know what happened,” he said of that game.
“We feel like we kind of owe them one in a way because we felt on that day we maybe should have left with something.”