Jose Mourinho questioned his Manchester United players’ desire after they crashed to a 1-0 defeat at Brighton.
United have now lost away to all three promoted teams this season after Pascal Gross’ goal guaranteed Brighton’s survival.
The visitors knew a win would all but secure second spot but Mourinho made six changes to his line-up and it backfired in a horribly disjointed display.
The United boss said: “Today I think it was a difference in the desire to fight for the targets. They had one target, to get the points and celebrate their Premier League survival.
“We had the target to get the points to finish second, and they showed that for them it is more important than for us to finish second.
“We didn’t show that. It was clearly a difference in emotion. And emotion is a big part of the game. They were here ready to give everything, and we were not able to motivate ourselves.
“I am disappointed because second is important for me. I’m not sure every one of my players is disappointed.”
Romelu Lukaku was missing for United as expected but Alexis Sanchez also sat out with an injury.
Mourinho admitted those players who stepped in, such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, simply did not take their opportunity despite FA Cup final places to play for.
He added: “For many months you are always asking me why this player doesn’t play, why that player doesn’t play, why this player is on the bench, why always Lukaku?
“You should be disappointed more than me because probably I know my players better than you, and probably you don’t know them so well to be always with these questions.”
German midfielder Gross, Albion’s undisputed player of the year, fittingly hit his seventh goal of the season to take the Seagulls to the magic 40-point mark.
In the 56th minute Jose Izquierdo skipped past Matteo Darmian and stood a cross up towards the far post.
David De Gea pushed the ball up onto the head of Gross and although Marcos Rojo hooked it clear from underneath the crossbar, goalline technology confirmed it had crossed the line.
Chris Hughton’s side can now look forward to another season in the top flight having assured they are mathematically safe ahead of trips to Manchester City and Liverpool.
It is some achievement for Hughton, who guided Brighton into the Premier League for the first time last season, and for a club who 21 years ago this week needed a late equaliser at Hereford to save themselves from dropping out of the Football League altogether.
Hughton said: “I’m particularly pleased with the performance. Normally when you win these games it’s because your goalkeeper has had to make saves and they’ve missed chances.
“But I don’t think they had a clear-cut chance and we were good value for the win.
“It’s a relief because even going into the game I felt, for our season’s work so far, that we deserved to stay in this league. So it’s a relief that we’ve done it and I’m really proud of the group of players.”