Watford managed to successfully stop the rot this afternoon, thrillingly clawing their way back from two goals down to salvage a much-needed point at Vicarage Road.
The Golden Boys looked dead and buried at half-time after two goals from James Ward-Prowse appeared to be sending them hurtling towards a seventh defeat in eight matches. The signs were ominous and everything pointed at that stage to an away win. The mood after such a fitting pre-match tribute to Graham Taylor was starting to turn sour.
But, inspired by the half-time introduction of the pumped-up Troy Deeney, Watford played with far more energy in the second half and threw the kitchen sink at the Saints, scoring through Andre Gray’s first home goal for the club and then dramatically equalising in the 90th minute through Abdoulaye Doucourè. Cue much relief.
Watford have scored a few late goals this season but none felt as important as this one. The draw felt like a win. Hopefully this can now be a springboard for the team to go on a run and put any fears about being dragged into a relegation scrap to bed.
The Hornets produced their greatest ever comeback when they defeated Southampton 7-1 in 1980 so it was fitting, on the anniversary of Taylor’s death, that they staged another one against the Saints here. Taylor would certainly have loved the way the Hornets played on the front foot in the second half, getting the ball wide and the getting it in the box for two big men. It was just a shame they didn’t play like it from the off. You just can’t afford to give teams at this exalted level a two-goal headstart.
Low on confidence, Watford needed to score first and the signs looked positive when Daryl Janmaat saw a rising strike tipped over by Alex McCarthy on 19 minutes. It was just the sort of moment to get the crowd off their seats and offer hope there was more of the same to come. Instead it proved the high watermark of the first half as 60 seconds later Southampton were in front.
They had already threatened twice on the break – Christian Kabasele stopped one and a combination of Heurelho Gomes and Molla Waguè prevented the other – when Shane Long scorched his way down the right, leaving Ben Watson for dead. His cross eventually found its way to Ward-Prowse and he threaded the ball through the legs of Waguè and into the far corner. It was advantage Southampton.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of the Hornets and it could have been worse, much worse. Gomes had to claw out a header bound for the far corner from Long and then the big Brazilian had to back pedal a bit sharpish to stop Wesley Hoedt’s effort from long range dropping over his head and into the back of the net. It also took a crucial last-gasp touch from Marvin Zeegalaar to prevent Long scoring at the far post.
It was all Southampton and Marco Silva had to respond, which he did by replacing Tom Cleverley with Roberto Pereyra. It looked a tactical switch at the time but, apparently, Cleverley was nursing a hamstring injury.
But Pereyra had barely had time to find his feet and get up to the pace of the game when Southampton extended their lead, Ward-Prowse again on hand to finish off another swift attacking raid, this time involving Long and Dusan Tadic. It looked a long way back from here for the Hornets.
Silva knew the team needed a lift and he sent for Deeney, just the man needed to get a restless Vicarage Road crowd back on side. The move had the desired effect, the captain energised the team with his up-and-at-them approach. Straight away, Gray didn’t look quite so isolated and he had someone to feed off. Watford were now, albeit belatedly, playing on the front foot.
You sensed a goal was coming and not long after Pereyra stroked one just wide of the far post, it did. A move down the left created some space on the right for Janmaat. He steadied himself, took aim and unleashed a rising drive that McCarthy brilliantly tipped onto the bar. But the rebound fell kindly for Gray and he nodded in from a couple of yards out. It was now game on.
Watford continued to huff and puff and go for broke in a far more watchable second half. Silva produced one last throw of the dice by slinging on Stefano Okaka and the big man caused havoc and gave the Saints defence something else to think about.
The Head Coach deserves credit for the bold nature of his substitutions and it was two of them that combined for the equaliser, Pereyra clipping the ball in for Deeney to nod into the path of Doucourè and he bundled the ball home. There was more than a suspicion of handball about the goal but the Hornets won’t care one iota about that. The point was that badly needed.
HORNETS | Gomes (GK) (C), Janmaat, Waguè, Kabasele, Zeegalaar, Doucourè, Watson (Deeney H-T); Carrillo, Cleverley (Pereyra 35), Richarlison, Gray (Okaka 73). Subs not used: Karnezis, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas