Fulham fans protested against manager Claudio Ranieri during a 2-0 defeat at Southampton which pushed them closer to Premier League relegation.

Ranieri faced chants of 'You don't know what you're doing' at St Mary's, while a banner containing the words: 'Risk free? Are you watching Tony Khan?' was unfurled in reference to comments made by the club's vice-chairman following the Italian's appointment in November.

FULL MATCH DETAILS

First-half goals from Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse, which lifted Saints out of the bottom three, leaves the Cottagers an alarming 10 points from safety with as many games remaining.

Ranieri has failed to spark an upturn in results since replacing the sacked Slavisa Jokanovic at Craven Cottage and his side's position is precarious after a seventh defeat from eight top-flight fixtures.

Despite the experienced Italian manager urging his players to believe otherwise, the 19th-placed Cottagers - along with bottom club Huddersfield - appear almost certain to be playing Championship football next season.

Southampton, meanwhile, are among a handful of other clubs aiming to avoid joining them.

With daunting fixtures against Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool on the horizon, the game had a must-win feel for the hosts, while Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl described it as 'should win' during his pre-match press conference.

Any understandable anxiety among the home supporters was partially eased with 23 minutes played.

Wing-back Ryan Bertrand delivered a corner from the right and, after Fulham keeper Rico could only punch the ball to the edge of the box, Spanish midfielder Romeu was well placed to lash home a first-time effort through a crowded penalty area for his first goal since November 2017.

Recalled Saints striker Charlie Austin had earlier had a close-range header correctly disallowed by referee Anthony Taylor following a barge on Rico.

The travelling Cottagers fans initially attempted to make light of the perilous positions of the two clubs with chants of "You're going down with the Fulham".

They had little reason for optimism in the opening period, although the stretching Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa forced Angus Gunn into a save with a poked effort and Aleksandar Mitrovic later blasted over from a tight angle.

Southampton were in control without being on top form and went further ahead in the 40th minute.

After sloppy defensive play from the visitors, Nathan Redmond saw his low shot turned away by Rico before the alert Ward-Prowse tapped home the rebound to claim his fourth goal of 2019.

With their team heading for defeat, the away supporters used a fairly uneventful second half to vent their anger.

After a home-made banner aimed at Khan was unfurled, there were chants questioning the decision-making of former Chelsea and Leicester boss Ranieri when he opted to replace Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald with Ryan Sessegnon and Luciano Vietto.

Amid the protests, the Cottagers almost halved the deficit with 16 minutes remaining when Ryan Babel rattled the crossbar.

An unlikely fightback failed to materialise and Southampton, watched from the stands by club great Matt Le Tissier, secured three points which could prove crucial come May.