West Ham United secured Europa League football for next season and their best ever Premier League points total after two goals from Pablo Fornals and a late Declan Rice strike propelled them to a 3-0 home win over Southampton on Sunday.
Spanish midfielder Fornals followed up a shot from Jarrod Bowen on the rebound to put the Londoners in charge on the half-hour mark and score for the first time in eight games.
He only needed another three minutes to find the net again, knocking home a cut-back from Vladimir Coufal.
David Moyes’ side were hungry for more goals and Rice adorned a memorable afternoon back in front of the club’s fans for the first time this year by adding a third in the 86th minute with the help of a Fornals assist.
West Ham finished sixth in the standings with 65 points, three more than their previous best total in 2015/16, and a drastic improvement on last season, when they came 16th after a nerve-wracking campaign spent fighting against relegation.
Southampton came 15th on 43 points after a terrible second half of the campaign followed a promising start.
“As you can see I’m buzzing and delighted,” said goalscorer Rice. “It’s a massive day for the club, to get into the Europa League after what we went through last year. It’s a ginormous achievement.
“This time last year we were was relieved to still be in the (Premier) league and now we’ve pushed on and got such a good team. Now the Europa League beckons for us and it’s a great opportunity.”
West Ham had to come from behind to beat West Bromwich Albion 3-1 away in their last game thanks to two late goals and they made a lacklustre start on Sunday.
Southampton’s Japanese international Takumi Minamino spurned an early clear sight of goal when he missed the target while Kyle Walker-Peters was denied from close range by the feet of West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Moyes’ side soon found their feet though and had a couple of half-chances before Fornals broke the deadlock.
“Bit of a nervy start to be honest, they could have been 2-0 up, but we knew if we just played our stuff we’d come through and win,” added Rice.
West Ham will go into the Europa League group stage for the first time because FA Cup winners Leicester City finished fifth after a 4-2 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur.