West Brom manager Alan Pardew believes the hectic week that his side endured took its toll as Southampton took the spoils after a 3-2 victory at The Hawthorns.
Having expended plenty of energy in the FA Cup victory at Liverpool last weekend, then having visited Manchester City on Wednesday, Albion ran out out steam in the crucial relegation encounter against the Saints.
Seven first-team players were unavailable to Pardew because of various injuries, and the visitors took full advantage with an impressive display and three goals.
Goals from Mario Lemina and Jack Stephens turned the game on its head after Ahmed Hegazi’s opener. James Ward-Prowse got Southampton’s third goal with a free-kick in the second half, before Salomon Rondon pulled one back.
The result leaves Pardew’s Baggies four points adrift at the bottom of the table.
“The squad was a little bit light today in terms of freshening things up, and I think that showed,” Pardew said after the match.
“They looked a bit fresher than us, a couple of changes they made in midfield. They had a bit more energy, particularly Lemina – I thought he was a handful for us.
“It was difficult for us to cope with him today.
“We got off to a great start, we could have got a second goal from a set-play, which was a bit unfortunate, and then that 20 minutes before half-time was the period we lost the game.
“We just looked a little bit off the pace then, and they got the two goals at a good time for them.
“Two quick goals – that hurt us as well.”
For his opposing number Mauricio Pellegrino, the victory eased pressure that had been mounting in recent weeks and months.
Prior to Saturday, Saints were winless in their previous 12 league games, a run stretching back to the end of November.
With the score at 1-0, there were calls of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” from some sections of the away end.
But the Spaniard witnessed his side’s response, and maintained he had been encouraging his players to continue applying themselves in the same fashion.
“It’s really important for us in many aspects,” a relieved Pellegrino said, “but for me to believe in the confidence and what we are, what we can do on the pitch, to reinforce our identity.
“Obviously when you don’t have a good result, you’re under criticism and this is normal.
“But I try to persuade my players to play on the front, on the floor, to create space. I think today was a really difficult game, because we suffered until the end.
“West Bromwich are really strong in how they play, and crosses, but I think we deserved to win and we maybe deserved to score another goal.
“Overall the most important thing is to improve our level and our belief.”