LONDON, April 22 — Southampton's hopes of returning to the Premier League were dealt a blow on Saturday as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in the Championship.
Victory at the Riverside would have sealed the south coast club's return to the top flight after a seven-year absence that included a drop into the third tier, but despite taking a first-minute lead they slipped up.
The result means third-placed West Ham United can still overhaul Southampton in the battle for the second automatic promotion place.
If the Hammers beat Leicester City on Monday, they would trail second-placed Southampton by two points with one game remaining in the season.
Reading, who were already promoted to the Premier League, were crowned Championship champions with Southampton's defeat at Boro. Reading drew 2-2 at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
It was a bad day too for Southampton's local rivals Portsmouth, who were relegated to League One after losing 2-1 at home to Derby County.
Coventry, who like Portsmouth have not-too-distant memories of playing in the Premier League, and whose stadium will host the opening match of the 2012 Olympics, also went down.
Their fate was sealed by a 2-0 defeat at home to already relegated Doncaster Rovers.
Southampton, who will be promoted if West Ham fail to beat Leicester or they win their final match of the season, at home to Coventry, took the lead at the Riverside through Billy Sharp after 47 seconds.
Nicky Bailey equalised for Middlesbrough and Merouane Zemmama's free kick gave Middlesbrough the three points that means they can still qualify for the playoffs if they win their final game of the season and Cardiff City lose.
Blackpool, relegated last season after one top-flight campaign, guaranteed a playoff place as they thrashed Burnley 4-0. West Ham are also guaranteed at least a playoff spot along with Birmingham City. — Reuters