A game that started with Watford’s supporters deriding their team’s chances of starting next season in the Premier League ended with them revelling in the thought of an unlikely escape. Roy Hodgson chalked up his second win in charge to move level on points with Everton, who remain outside the relegation zone on goal difference, and though the obvious caveat that the teams directly above and below them are armed with games in hand stands, on this evidence Watford’s race is not yet run.
Cucho Hernández scored twice as Southampton suffered a third straight defeat, with Mohamed Elyounoussi’s strike before half-time failing to ignite a fightback.
Southampton began with great promise – Elyounoussi had a header cleared off the line with less than 90 seconds gone – but quickly faded and Jan Bednarek made a desperate block to thwart João Pedro shortly before Watford opened the scoring. At the time the travelling supporters were busy bathing in the sun and making light of their team’s predicament with a series of sarcastic chants. Hernández was not deterred, seizing on a loose ball after Mohammed Salisu undercooked a back pass for Fraser Forster and rounding the goalkeeper, who was frozen in time.
Watford played with a low block, with every outfield player behind the ball as Southampton huffed and puffed on halfway. Kyle Walker-Peters thrashed a shot at Ben Foster from the byline and Salisu headed over an inviting James Ward-Prowse free-kick but Watford hushed the hosts when they doubled their advantage on 34 minutes. Ralph Hasenhüttl, hands on hips on the edge of the home technical area, appeared as stunned as the travelling Watford fans.
Hodgson, by contrast, was unmoved in the dugout. Watford piled down the left and Juraj Kucka’s delicious first-time cross dropped at the back post, where the unmarked Hernández smacked in his second. It could have been 3-0 a few minutes later had Kucka taken the imposing Moussa Sissoko’s pass in his stride.
The home supporters made their frustration clear and Hasenhüttl contorted on the touchline. The Southampton manager, whose side welcome Manchester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals next Sunday, was irked by what he deemed Watford time-wasting. “I understand that they are in a relegation battle and they use everything to stop our rhythm,” he said. “I just don’t know if we want to see this.”
“Can we play you every week?” came the riposte from the away fans, having seen their team score two goals on the road for only the second time this season. Watford were in unusual territory and any hopes of a clean sheet were broken on the brink of the interval. Elyounoussi set up an intriguing second half after arriving at the back post to convert another Ward-Prowse free-kick but Watford eked out a priceless win.
“That goal could really have dented our confidence and belief but it certainly didn’t because we went out in the second half and continued where we left off,” Hodgson said. “Resilience is such an important factor in the Premier League, whether you’re at the bottom of the table or fighting for a place in the Champions League.”