Southampton 3 Sheffield United 2: Saints are saved by John double

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The Southampton manager, Nigel Pearson, was the calmest man inside St Mary's after his side completed a dramatic escape from being relegated from the Championship.

Stern John cracked a second-half double to add to Marek Saganowski's header as Saints came from behind to beat Sheffield United 3-2 and avoid the drop. The final whistle sparked bedlam with a pitch invasion greeting the news that Leicester had only managed a draw at Stoke, allowing Saints to leapfrog them out of the bottom three.

"Relief is the overwhelming feeling at this time," Pearson said. "At a number of points it looked like we were going to come out on the wrong side, so obviously I'm delighted.

"I didn't know the other scores, I just wanted to focus on the game. We were up against a side in form and it was never going to be easy."

Southampton were looking at third division football for the first time in 48 years when Stephen Quinn put the Blades ahead after 23 minutes.

Richard Wright denied the visitors what could have been a second when he kept out Matt Kilgallon's header, moments later Saganowski scored to send the teams in level at the break.

John fired Saints ahead at the start of a nerve-shredding second half, firing into the top of the net. The United substitute Jon Stead looked to have consigned the hosts to the drop once more when he stabbed home. But John's 19th goal of the season means St Mary's will once again be hosting Charlton, rather than Cheltenham, next term. The striker's afternoon ended prematurely when he was sent off for a second yellow card 10 minutes from time.

Whether Pearson will still be in charge next term remains to be seen, with former chairman Rupert Lowe poised to take over the club again.

"There are issues which need to be resolved but I'm not in a position to share that information," he said. When asked if he thought he would still be in charge next season, Pearson added: "I certainly hope so."

Goals: Quinn (23) 0-1; Saganowski (42) 1-1; John (53) 2-1; Stead (65) 2-2; John (69) 3-2.

Southampton (4-4-2): Richard Wright; Jermaine Wright, Powell, Perry, Surman; Viafara, Safri, Idiakez (Licka, 79), Euell; Saganowski (Lallana, 73), John. Substitutes not used: Davis (gk), Wright-Phillips, Pericard.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Geary, Kilgallon, Naysmith, Halls; Cotterill (Gillespie, 38), Speed, Tonge, Quinn; Hulse (Stead, 63), Sharp (Shelton, 56). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Armstrong.

Referee: P Joslin (Nottinghamshire).

Booked: Southampton John; Sheffield Utd: Speed, Shelton.

Sent off: John (80).

Man of the match: John.

Attendance: 31,957.