The Friday night before this game there was a Tales from the Vicarage event featuring John Barnes. While Watford fans have nothing but admiration for Barnesy as a player, it has been a source of irritation to some that he rarely acknowledges his time at Watford in interviews. Also, previous events have featured a number of players, so this would be a completely different animal and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turned out to be a lovely evening. John spoke with a great deal of affection about his time at Watford. Particularly striking was his huge admiration for Graham Taylor who, it appeared, he would have trusted with his life. I was very surprised to hear about nights out with Tony Coton, Mick Harford and Noel Blake as they seemed unlikely drinking buddies. There was a Hornet Heaven episode that referred to a banner than I distinctly remember from Cup Final day (and I now know the person behind the banner). The evening ended with a recreation of some old photos with fans, which was hilarious, and a performance of the rap from World in Motion that brought the house down.
I stayed overnight in Watford after the evening at the Palace. As I was leaving on Saturday morning, I followed a man into the lift. When he turned to face me, I realised that it was Adam Leventhal, so we had a chat about what a good evening it had been and I was able to thank him (again) for the events.
Having caught an early train from Watford, I met Jacque at Waterloo only to find that a points failure meant that the train we were aiming for was cancelled. This had the knock-on effect that the following train was heaving. There were then added delays due to someone trespassing on the track. It felt as though we would never arrive, so it was a relief when we finally reached the pre-match pub and enjoyed a beer (or two) with our party. As we left to walk to the ground, the sky darkened and the heavens opened. We found ourselves sheltering from the worst of the shower under a tree, but were already soaked to the skin. Thankfully, it eased off and we arrived at St Mary’s, soggy, but in plenty of time for kick-off.
Team news was that there were three (enforced) changes from the draw with Brighton as Kaboul, Holebas and Carrillo came in for Prödl (injured), Britos (suspended) and Amrabat (departed). So the starting line-up was Gomes; Femenía, Kaboul, Kabasele, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison; Gray
There was a really lively start to the game. The Hornets were dominating and playing some really good football, but without creating any real chances. The first goal attempt came from a free kick from Holebas that flew just wide of the near post. Prior to the game, we had been told that a young Saints fan called Jamie Isherwood had passed away in the previous week after a heart attack and the home fans were planning to have a minute’s applause in the 22nd minute. As the applause started among the home fans, it was good to see that the message had reached the travelling Hornets who joined in in numbers, although we may have become a little distracted from the tribute when Richarlison beat a couple of defenders before having a shot blocked by Stephens. As the half progressed, there was some concern that our lovely forward play was not translating into shots so, when the ball fell to Doucouré outside the box, Mike’s instruction was, “Just whack it.” He did and it flew past Forster into the net to send the Watford fans into delirium and the Saints fans to the bars for their half time refreshments. Having been shot shy for most of the half, the Hornets had a couple of decent chances to increase their lead before half time. First a terrific shot from the edge of the area by Richarlison was deflected into the side netting. Then a lovely passing move finished with Doucouré on the edge of the area, any hopes of a repeat of his goal were dashed when he blasted the ball over the bar. In the final action of the half, some dogged persistence from Gray won a corner, the delivery found its way to Cleverley whose shot was blocked.
We reached half time very satisfied with the afternoon’s entertainment so far. It had been a terrific first half and the Hornets thoroughly deserved their lead.
Watford had an early chance to increase the lead in the second half as Richarlison played the ball back to Chalobah, but his shot was straight at Forster in the Southampton goal. The home side then threatened with a shot from Bertrand that was blocked at close range by Kaboul. A promising ball over the top reached Gray, but he was unable to escape the attentions of the defence and was tackled before he could shoot. Carrillo did really well to win a corner, the delivery from Holebas was deep and reached Chalobah whose shot was blocked. Southampton’s best chance of the game so far came as Boufal got himself into a great position, but his shot was well over the bar. Then Stephens received a ball in the box and looked sure to score when Kabasele appeared out of nowhere to make a wonderful saving tackle. On the hour Silva was forced to make two substitutions as both Kaboul and Femenía had to leave the game due to injuries, they were replaced by Mariappa and Janmaat. The Dutchman made his mark on the game almost immediately. I am ashamed to say that, when the ball fell to him outside the area, my reaction was “What’s he shooting from there for?” I felt like a complete fool when his terrific strike hit the net. The second goal certainly settled nerves in the away end as the home side were having their best spell of the game. There were still 24 minutes of the match remaining at this point, but the home fans started heading for the exits.
Watford’s final substitution came with 6 minutes remaining as Deeney replaced Gray, who had looked more comfortable than in previous games but had not troubled the Southampton keeper. Watford continued to push for another goal. First Richarlison ran into the box, but waited too long to shoot and was stopped by a tackle. Then Carrillo tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar. At the other end a shot from Davis was stopped by a flying header from Mariappa. Southampton had their first shot on target in time added on at the end of the game, the shot from Cedric appeared to be heading for the top corner when Gomes came flying across to pluck the ball out of the air. The Hornets should have had a third, and it would have been a contender for goal of the season, as Carrillo turned to beat a player on the wing, as he advanced towards the goal he beat two more players before shooting just wide of the target. It was one of those chances that should be awarded a goal just for the magnificent build-up. The final whistle went on a convincing win and I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
After the game each encounter with a fellow Horn started with “How good was that?” Watford had completely dominated the game against a team that I would consider to be one of our main competitors. The midfield had been magnificent, yet again, but the defence had done a sterling job and deserve special praise for the fact that they continued to hold Southampton at bay after two enforced changes with 30 minutes to go. Carrillo’s first start was very impressive, from battling for the ball to win a corner to a sublime move that really should have been awarded a goal. If he continues in this manner, he will become a firm favourite. But the most impressive aspect of the game was that we saw wonderful skill accompanied by immense work rate throughout the team. Not one of the players was going to allow the opposition time on the ball, and that time was limited as the passing between the Watford players was so accurate. This was a truly impressive showing, worthy of the 82-83 team that starred John Barnes and there can be no higher praise from me than that.