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SAINTS could not hold onto an early lead to send St Mary’s supporters home happy for a final time this season, as Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1.
Nathan Redmond had set Saints ahead inside the first 15 minutes after his strike clipped James Milner on the way in, but Takumi Minamino scored against his former loan side to level.
A defensive Saints held on into the second-half, but defender Joel Matip headed into the top corner beyond McCarthy to keep their title hopes alive.
Liverpool, who made nine changes, knew that only a win would realistically be enough to help them catch Manchester City, going into this game four points behind with the final day of the season on Sunday.
Ralph Hasenhuttl revealed ahead of kick-off that left-back Romain Perraud has been ruled out for five to six weeks with a leg fracture, while Fraser Forster was also absent through injury.
That saw Alex McCarthy make a first-team appearance for the first time since December, as one of five changes in the Saints team to the 3-0 defeat at Brentford last time out with a switch to five-at-the-back.
Armando Broja showed good early endeavour to force a save from a tight angle but neglected Redmond arriving open at the back-post.
However, the makeshift left-wing-back carved another opportunity soon after – picking up on the halfway line and driving, cutting inside past two defenders before curling a shot.
The right-footed effort just slightly deflected off James Milner and in to give Saints an early lead, and Redmond his first goal of the Premier League season.
Roberto Firmino thought he had levelled soon after with a header but it was clearly offside due to a well marshalled Saints line.
But it was instead the former Saints loanee, Minamino, who finished a swift move and thumped beyond McCarthy from inside the area to restore parity before the half-hour mark.
Liverpool then began to assert their dominance on the contest, and looked in control with Saints scrambling to clear lines.
Supporters were given a rousing half-time addressing by Saints legend Dave Merrington commentating on his final home game for BBC Radio Solent, and he was as warmly received as he greets.
Regardless, Saints almost immediately went a goal down but for Diogo Jota pulling wide within minutes of the restart.
That woke them up, and it was they who advanced with the St Mary’s crowd behind them. James Ward-Prowse, looking for a 10th Premier League goal, struck a free-kick low into the wall.
But Liverpool capitalised on a gift to take the lead with just over 20 minutes left, Moi Elyounoussi trying to head clear what should have been Broja’s ball from a corner and only nodding it behind for Matip to convert.
Hasenhuttl responded with his first changes but Saints could do little to disrupt even the most makeshift of Kop defences long into the night.
Redmond had a final speculative shot, and Kyle Walker-Peters looked to latch onto a deep cross with no avail as three minutes added-on passed by.
Saints: McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Stephens, Lyanco, Salisu, Redmond; Ward-Prowse, Diallo (Romeu, 70); Tella (S Armstrong, 70), Elyounoussi, Broja (Adams, 82)
Unused subs: Bednarek, Valery, Djenepo, A Armstrong, Long, Caballero (g/k).
Liverpool: Alisson; Gomez (Henderson, h-t), Matip, Konate, Tsimakas; Milner, Jones, Elliott (Origi, 65); Minamino, Jota, Firmino (Keita, 82).
Unused subs: Thiago, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaz, Robertson, Williams, Kelleher (g/k)
Referee: Martin Atkinson
VAR: Stuart Attwell
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