This game was going to be a different experience from the start as Toddy and I had been invited as guests of Ross Wilson, who is currently the Director of Scouting and Recruitment at Southampton, having started his career in England with Watford. Due to poor planning and miscommunication on my part, we didn’t get to the ground until about 10 minutes before kick-off, so missed the pre-match jolly. When we took our seats in the corporate section on the half way line, I had to admire the fantastic view, but I was missing being in the middle of the band of away supporters who were packed in the corner. Although my first thought on seeing the away fans was that there wasn’t a lot of yellow on show. The rain had been torrential on the way to the ground, so raincoats were obscuring the brightly coloured replica shirts.
Team news was that Flores had made 4 changes from the cup game, which translated to only one change from our last league game with Prödl, who had been excellent on Saturday, coming in for Cathcart, who would miss a league start for the first time this season. The starting line-up was Gomes, Holebas, Prödl, Britos, Nyom, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.
The first chance of the game fell to the home side as Capoue lost out to Clasie whose cross was blocked by Britos, but fell to Romeu who shot high and wide. The Saints took the lead on 16 minutes as a cross from Targett was met with a glancing header from Long which directed the ball past Gomes. It was not a good start and it never really looked like getting any better. There was a brief reaction as Jurado broke forward before finding Nyom who crossed towards Deeney, but van Dijk took the ball off Troy’s head. The home side should have been two up on 20 minutes as Mané unleashed a shot that Gomes pushed wide. From the corner, Gomes punched the ball only as far as Targett, whose shot from the edge of the area was blocked. A botched attempt by Nyom to win a goal kick saw the ball rebound into the area allowing Long to shoot from a tight angle. Thankfully Gomes was able to block the shot before Holebas cleared. There was a break in play as Holebas went down after a foul by Cédric, who was booked. You could see from the player’s reaction that he was clearly hurt, but the home fans thought it was appropriate to boo Holebas as he limped off and then booed every subsequent touch. There was a brief moment of hope for the Watford fans as Capoue released Ighalo, it looked promising as Odion executed a couple of his trademark scoops, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Watford nearly gifted a goal to the Saints as a cross from Targett was turned goalwards by Holebas, but Gomes was able to make the save. Southampton threatened again as Capoue lost out in midfield and Romeu played a through ball to Long whose shot was into the side netting but the flag was already up for offside. A hospital ball from Jurado was picked up by Mané and it took good work from Gomes to put him off his shot which rebounded off the post. Then a clearance from Watson only went as far as Fonte who shot over the target. Southampton attacked again as Cédric’s cross reached Long in the box but, under pressure from Prödl, his header was weak and easily gathered by Gomes. Jurado, caught in possession, played a panicked back pass and, again, Gomes was forced to save from his own player. It was a relief when the half time whistle went. It had been a truly dreadful half of football from the Hornets. Capoue and Watson, normally so reliable, seemed to have been replaced with their non-footballer twins and Jurado was back to his early season form. Every pass we made found a Southampton player and they, in turn, seemed to be able to break at will. Only Gomes stood between us and a tonking.
During the interval we met with lovely Ross Wilson, who is clearly loving his role at Southampton. I was particularly grateful to him as, on a filthy night, I was able to partake of a nice glass of red wine in the comfort of the Matt Le Tissier Suite to get my strength back before the restart.
There was an early second half scare for the Hornets as Mané challenged for a header in the box, he clashed with Gomes, who needed treatment, and Prödl had to clear off the line. On the hour, Flores made his first substitution as Anya replaced Abdi. The Scotsman was soon involved in the best Watford move of the game so far as he ran down the right wing and put in a cross that only just evaded the head of Ighalo. Southampton had the ball in the net for a second time as Davis latched on to a through ball before finishing past Gomes, but the flag had been raised for some time so it didn’t count. Then Romeu tried a shot from the edge of the area, but Gomes was equal to it. Watford’s first booking came when Prödl clashed with Long in what looked like a 50-50 challenge, but the Irishman went down and Prödl was shown a yellow card.
Flores then made a totally unexpected change replacing Nyom with Ibarbo who was supposed to be on his way out of the club. The home fans sitting behind us were all laughing and saying, “Who? None of us know who you are.” I couldn’t help thinking that many Watford fans would have been equally baffled. Southampton really should have been two up with 20 minutes to go as van Dijk played a ball across the box, Long failed to connect but it reached Mané whose shot, thankfully, hit the side netting. The home side had another decent chance after Jurado was tackled by Long, who advanced before cutting the ball back to Mané who shot wide of the target. That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Tadic. Watford’s second substitution saw Cathcart come on for Britos. There was a rare attack by the visitors as Watson launched a free-kick into the Southampton box, but nobody could get a head to it and the ball was hooked clear. Southampton’s second goal came on 73 minutes and it was the substitute, Tadic, who latched on to a long ball, with both Prödl and Anya challenging him he still found space for a shot and beat Gomes to the delight of all in the posh seats except Toddy and I. But it was no more than they deserved. After a trip on Ighalo was waved on by the referee, Deeney saw a bit of red mist and was booked for a strong challenge on Romeu. The home side threatened again as Davis crossed for Long, but Prödl ensured that he couldn’t make it count.
With 10 minutes remaining, Watford finally had their first shot on target, but a deflection took the pace off Deeney’s effort and Forster was able to save. The Watford faithful in the corner started a chant of “We’ve had a shot.” Ighalo was the next to try his luck with a couple of scoops, but his shot was blocked. Then Cathcart decided to take charge as he picked up a Southampton clearance, advanced and tried a shot but Forster was behind it. It was probably our best chance of the game and inspired the away fans to bounce much to the confusion of the Southampton fans around us. Tadic had a chance to increase the lead as he latched on to a weak clearance from Prödl, but he shot over the target. Yet again a Watford attack was turned into defence as a Deeney cross was headed clear and the ball reached the other end of the field, Long was about to shoot when a brilliant saving tackle from Holebas stopped him. The fourth official held the board up indicating the addition of 5 minutes, my only thought was ‘please make this stop.’ Thankfully, when it did stop, we had not done ourselves any further damage.
I have seen a number of comments since the game expressing the concern that teams are now working out how to play against us. I couldn’t help recalling that, when we played Southampton in August, they didn’t allow us a single shot on target so, statistically, we had done better in this game. So saying, this was the worst Watford performance that I have witnessed all season. In the post-match interviews Flores apologized to the fans for the performance and Deeney gave his usual honest perspective. I can’t get too worked up about the abject performance as it was the first time this season that I have seen us playing so dreadfully. But we have now lost three league games in a row so need to kick start our second half of the season. Next Monday in Swansea will be very interesting indeed.