Story of the game
Ralph Hasenhuttl made three changes to his Southampton side that lost 2-0 to Arsenal last time out, with Kyle Walker-Peters and Jannik Vestergaard coming in at the back, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s seemingly imminent departure meant he was omitted for Will Smallbone.
Watford had begun their return to play in positive fashion but remained just a point above the relegation zone coming into this clash. Craig Cathcart replaced the injured Christian Kabasele at centre-back, while there were returns to the side for Abdoulaye Doucoure and Roberto Pereyra.
Saints settled into the game and had the first shot on target of the contest. Shane Long ended a build-up of excellent patient passing play with a strong left-footed strike into Ben Foster’s midriff.
Just a minute later it was 1-0. Smallbone turned in space in the middle of the pitch before playing Danny Ings whose quick feet and piercing strike found the bottom corner of Watford’s net from just outside the box.
The sides went into the interval with Southampton continuing their control over the match, but Watford set about restoring parity as an early free-kick resulted in Ismaila Sarr’s close-range shot being blocked before Troy Deeney looped one over the crossbar.
Will Hughes had a later effort as the Hornets continued to threaten from set-piece situations and looked the most likely to add a second goal to the scoreboard.
All of the hosts’ efforts in the second period were thrown away with 20 minutes to play as Foster threw the ball straight to Ings who drove at Craig Dawson and buried a strike into the bottom left corner.
But they soon got right back into the game. Substitute Jose Holebas delivered a wonderful ball into the box from the left-hand side and Jan Bednarek could only divert the ball past Alex McCarthy and into his own net.
No sooner had were they back in the game than they were all but beaten, as James Ward-Prowse bent a superb free-kick into the left-side of the goal, up and over the wall from almost dead centre.
Che Adams nearly had his first Premier League goal for the Saints but was foiled by Foster before Nathan Redmond thumped the base of the right-hand post.
The fourth goal was not to be, but a superb Southampton performance continued their strong restart and provides a glimpse of what might be to come next season and beyond.
Man of the Match: Danny Ings
There was only one man that could be named man of the match. The former Liverpool and Burnley striker continued his stellar season in front of goal, with his tally of 18 strikes now just one-off Jamie Vardy’s 19 atop the golden boot chart.
Ings provided a somewhat different role in that he held the ball up and involved himself in the build-up of attacks more often. Much of the visitors’ direction went through their no.9 and he was key to the side gaining an early foothold in the match.
The two goals were peak Ings, with his predatory finishing and terrific instinct in and around the box simply impossible to defend.
As Southampton look to continue to grow and improve under Hasenhuttl, keeping Ings firing is going to be a huge part of any success the team has going forward.
Key takeaways from the game
No Hojbjerg, no worries
As his future looks more and more certain to be away from St. Mary’s Stadium next season, Hojbjerg was removed from the matchday squad but Southampton showed no signs of any struggle without him.
The Dane’s captaincy has been given to Ward-Prowse as his contract stand-off continues, with Tottenham Hotspur emerging as a leading candidate for the 24-year-old’s signature.
Smallbone continues to show why he is highly-rated by the club in his appearances and could be seen as Hojbjerg’s successor.
Hasenhuttl has admitted that a number of clubs are after his former skipper and that replacements will be needed, but with the team heading in the right direction under the Austrian – who penned a new four-year deal during lockdown – any disruptions to that will justifiably be moved on.
A platform to grow
Saints look to be set on the right path to develop into a consistent Premier League team once again after toying with relegation for the past few years.
It has been said to the point it’s becoming cliché now, but that 9-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester City really did become a turning point for the team, and two wins from three with six goals scored coming out of lockdown are positive signs for the future.
Home form is still a worry for the Saints and will need to improve if any sort of European ambition is to be met in ensuing seasons, but with a clear recruitment plan and an identity under Hasenhuttl, that ambition is by no means beyond the realm of possibility.