It was one of the few all-Premier League ties in the FA Cup weekend, and perhaps this meant there was some expectation on the match despite the difficulties of the teams in the league. Maybe this was something both Southampton and Watford were aware of as they played out a game with few glaring chances.
Jack Stephens was able to profit from confusion in the Watford box to poke home the opener, and the winner, inside five minutes, with neither side able to find the back of the net again. Dusan Tadic and Shane Long gave the visitors a lot of problems, but they clearly left their shooting boots at home, while Watofrd’s new manager Javi Gracia was forced to witness a poor display from his new team.
The home fans will have left pleased by their side claiming another positive result, and the FA Cup win for the Saints could see their league campaign resurrected. While for Watford, this was yet another loss and a poor start to life in England for Gracia. Any momentum they could have gained from the match was wasted, and they will now return to the league with survival very much their only objective.
Jack Stephens gives the Saints a dream start
There has been so much pessimism surrounding the two teams in recent months as they have both slipped down the Premier League table. Indeed, this game would have been viewed by some as a needless distraction to a desperate attempt to save their campaigns in England’s top league. However, the side that scored first would always change their tune, and it was the home fans that were suddenly incredibly pleased with the change of competition.
Sofiane Boufal ghosted past Daryl Janmaat who then dragged the attacker back to give the home team a free-kick in a promising position. Too often has promise come to nothing for the Saints this season, but their fourth-minute free-kick was something that went against the tide of their campaign. Chaos reigned as the set-piece was swung in with Watford struggling to get the ball clear, and there was Jack Stephens to mark his birthday with a finish that he prodded home to give the home side an early lead, while it also opened his account for the side.
Many had claimed that the first goal would be vital in the match, and the Saints claimed it following a very bright start. Watford looked shellshocked as they trudged back to their positions, with the first body blow of the game being firmly planted by the home team.
Tadic and Long run Watford ragged
The opening goal seemed to give Southampton a huge amount of confidence, and as you would expect, it deflated the visitors massively. The home fans would have been hoping to see their players really take the initiative after going a goal up as momentum has not been something they have not seen much of this season, and that is exactly what two of their attackers did.
Shane Long and Dusan Tadic linked up superbly in the opening exchanges as they ran Watford ragged. First, Tadic played in a delightful ball forward for Long to chase and, after taking a good touch, he fired in a cross that Cedric could not profit from. Next, Tadic was once again the architect as he dazzled with some quick feet which opened up space for a cross, but Long, who is usually so good with his head, was unusually wasteful, firing the ball over the bar from the centre of the box. Long was once again given a chance as Cedric drilled a shot in as the half wre on, but the striker could not latch onto it.
While all three chances had been spurned, the relationship between the two was proving to be one that Watford could not handle, and it seemed as though if they carried on in this vein, they would surely score more. The second-half started in the same manner as Tadic once again wowed the crowd, while Long saw a number of chances come and go, but the positives from their performances were clear for all to see.
With Southampton struggling for goals this season, it seems as though Tadic and Long could be the partnership to drag the Saints out of trouble.
A quiet second-half follows Ryan Bertrand’s withdrawal
Very little actually happened as the game wore on, with both teams seemingly settling for what they had. One of the few moments of quality came from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg as he controlled a pass before picking his spot and firing a sublime effort that rattled the crossbar.
However, there was a blot on the copybook of Southampton as Ryan Bertrand was forced off in the first-half. The former-Chelsea defender has been a fantastic performer for the Saints and any injury has seen their flank weakened. The fans will be hoping that the injury to the defender is not too serious, with his prominence both at the back and when going forward a real feature of Southampton’s play.
Gracia’s tough start as the Saints go marching on
With new manager Javi Gracia watching on from the dugout, there were a number of players that clearly needed to play well to show their manager what they are about. However, their performance in the first-half was insipid at best. Richarlison fired a free-kick harmlessly over the bar before Ben Watson blazed miles wide with an effort. Indeed, their first real chance fell to Richarlison as he chipped a shot at goal that Alex McCarthy was forced to tip over the bar.
Other than that, Watford struggled to create much as their new manager will have likely watched on in disappointment. They barely threatened in the latter stages of the game as they needed a goal, which shows how low confidence must be. Gracia would have been hoping to see an immediate impact in the same ilk as Roy Hodgson with Crystal Palace and David Moyes with West Ham, but he instead saw a very rusty performance from his side that will inspire confidence in neither the new boss nor the fans.
It means that Watford are out of another cup, and their focus will turn solely to survival in the league. While playing only league games will help to keep the side fresh, it does also curtail any ability to claim morale-boosting wins away from the pressure of their Premier League campaign. For Southampton, this has added momentum following the draw with Tottenham, and they will look forward to taking their place in the next round of the FA Cup, with their run in the competition something that will give the fans welcomed respite from their woes in the league.
Southampton: McCarthy 7 – Cedric 8, Stephens 7, Hoedt 8, Bertrand 6 (Pied 6) – Romeu 7, Davis 7 – Hojbjerg 7, Boufal 8.5 (Yoshida 6), Tadic 8 (G. Carrillo 6) – Long 8.
Unused subs: Forster, Ward-Prowse, Lemina, Gabbiadini.
Watford: Kamezis 7 – Janmaat 6 (Sinclair 6), Mariappa 6, Kabasele 6, Holebas 6 – Watson 6.5, Capoue 5 (Okaka 6) – Richarlison 6.5, Carrillo 6 (Pereyra 6), Doucoure 6 – Gray 6.
Unused subs: Prodl, Success, Zeegelaar, Bachmann.
Referee: Robert Madley
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