Southampton’s unbeaten start to the season ended with a two-nil loss to Watford at St Mary’s.
For the third time this season, Saints failed to score against an under strength Watford side. Their only shot on target came in the 91st minute, with the squad continuing to struggle in front of goal.
Long range strikes in either half from Abdoulaye Doucoure and Daryl Janmaat gave the visitors a victory which they fully deserved, with Saints poor for most of the game in all areas of the pitch.
While Mauricio Pelligrino will take his share of the blame, fielding a weak side against a powerful Watford team, the eleven men on the pitch for Saints failed to show up and were easily swatted aside in a buoyant Watford display.
Little happened in the early parts of the game, aside from a 22nd minute tribute to Saints fan Jamie Isherwood, who passed away this week, but the Hornets buzzed around, snapping away at the home team and denying them any time on the ball from the off.
Watford were stronger, more energetic and purposeful, where Saints were sloppy and timid. The home side often gave the ball away meekly throughout, hitting hopeless balls into the channels which were easily dealt with. Watford were incisive, clever, and first to every second ball.
Yet, there was little goalmouth action early on, with the first shot on target arriving in the 38th minute - and in true Saints fashion it led to a goal. Warning signs were there with Southampton failing to clear the ball on more than one occasion before the opener. Just minutes before Sofiane Boufal gifted Watford a free kick following Steven Davis’ slashed clearance; Watford wasted that chance but did not miss the next one.
Doucoure’s 38th minute strike came following similar sloppy defending. Jose Holebas fired in one of many long throws, with Southampton only half clearing the danger. They then failed to clear the second ball, which sat up nicely for Frenchman Doucoure to half volley from 20 yards inside Fraser Forster’s left post.
Southampton upped the effort following the break but couldn’t get to grips with Watford’s physical approach. The visitors managed the game and the referee’s lenient approach far better than the south coast team, and were able to cut open the Saints’ midfield seemingly at will.
Dusan Tadic was introduced at half time for James Ward-Prowse in what looked a good move with the Serbian using his body well and having an impact early in the second period. The Serb’s cute ball fed Ryan Bertand in the box, but Watford blocked the England defender’s cross well.
Southampton were in the ascendancy for a short period around the hour mark, but poor finishing again let them down with Boufal blasting an effort well wide and Jack Stephens attempting to control a head-on in the box when he should have hit it first time. The Hornets scrambled to deny the young Englishman a chance to get a shot away.
Just when the home side looked as though they might find a breakthrough, Watford ended the contest. Saints again failed to clear their lines, not once, but twice, with substitute Daryl Janmaat smashing in an effort from some 30 yards. Forster, again slow to get down to the bouncing ball, continues to be a liability - particularly with shots from distance - for a Saints team lacking courage at the moment.
Shane Long and Charlie Austin entered the fray late on with minimal effect, Long timidly wasting a chance at the back post with less than ten minuted to play. A bad day could easily have been worse for Pellegrino’s men, with Watford counter attacking well in the final minutes and Stephens denying Brazilian Richarlison as he drove into the Saints’ box through good reading of the play.
Cedric Soares was the first man to work Heurelho Gomes with his long range effort in the 91st minute, highlighting Southampton’s continued woeful form in front of goal. While the team was ill-equipped to deal with Watford’s muscular approach today, the team will need to take a long hard look in the mirror and muster some character if they are to avoid a relegation fight on the basis of today’s performance
Pellegrino handed Dutch centre half Wesley Hoedt his Saints debut, and also opted for Sofiane Boufal ahead of Dusan Tadic and neither played particularly well. Mario Lemina dropped to the bench after his international exploits for Gabon, while Virgil van Dijk was left out of the squad as he continues building up his match fitness after his protracted transfer saga. Both would have strengthened Saints today simply by being more combative.
Southampton travel to Crystal Palace next Saturday, and will need to show a lot more than they did today in all departments. Should they lose to a struggling Palace side, then the manager will have one hell of a job in restoring confidence and goals to a squad who are in a depressing rut.
Southampton: Forster; Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis (C); Ward-Prowse (Tadic), Boufal (Long), Redmond; Gabbiadini (Austin).
Subs: McCarthy, Yoshida, McQueen, Lemina, Tadic, Long, Austin.
Watford: Gomes (C); Femenía (Janmaat), Kaboul (Mariappa), Kabasele, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray (Deeney).
Subs: Karnezis, Mariappa, Janmaat, Watson, Capoue, Success, Deeney.