Southampton look to make the most of their match in hand and pick up three critical points in their bid to avoid the drop Tuesday when they face Watford at Vicarage Road.
The Saints (9-9-16) squandered a chance to take a huge step closer to safety Saturday at St James’ Park where they were thumped 3-1 by Newcastle United. Two goals conceded in a four-minute span in the first half put Southampton on the back foot, and though Mario Lemina provided a lifeline just before the hour, there was no equaliser to be found before Ayoze Perez completed his three-goal game four minutes from time.
The result left Southampton only five points clear of 18th-place Cardiff City with four matches remaining, and while this is the most challenging game left for Ralph Husenhuttl’s team for the run-in, the Austrian boss is expecting a better effort than the one he received at Tyneside.
“The first half was too bad so we don’t deserve to get something. If you start like that and are two down at half-time, it’s hard to come back,” Hasenhuttl told The Times. “Changing shape caused more problems for Newcastle. They didn’t have a lot of chances in the second half, apart from hitting the post, which was lucky.
“However, the first half just wasn’t good enough, which is too bad. We have to be sharper and more aggressive. We know we are not safe.”
It was third road loss in four league matches for the Saints, who have taken just 15 points from their 17 contests outside St Mary’s. Fullback James Ward-Prowse is fortunate to a degree he will be able to play in this contest, having escaped a direct red card from referee Anthony Taylor after flattening Miguel Almiron while coming perilously close to denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Hasenhuttl will be hoping the turnaround is not too quick for defender Jannik Vestegaard and right back Jan Valery, who missed Saturday’s match through injury and illness, respectively. Lemina, who entered the match as a halftime substitute, scored in his first action since late December.
Watford (14-7-13) remained on their dual-track quest to claim a Europa League qualifying round spot by either finishing seventh in the table or upending Manchester City in the FA Cup final next month at Wembley. The Hornets gained the inside track for the former with their 2-1 victory at relegated Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
Gerard Deulofeu returned after missing Watford’s loss to Arsenal with an ankle injury and continued his blistering form with a brace on either side of halftime, giving him two-goal games in his last two matches and eight in his last nine across all competitions. His goal in the fifth minute to open the scoring was one of his best of the season, toying with a pair of Town defenders on the ball before caressing a curling right-footed shot off the bottom of the right post and in.
“He’s scoring important goals,” said Watford manager Javi Gracia to the team’s official website, “very good goals. All goals are good for me, but in this moment Gerard is scoring and living in an important moment for him and the team. Even when he didn’t score, he is showing a good commitment for the club and trying to help the team.”
Watford are in line for their first top-half finish in the top flight since placing ninth in the First Division in 1987. On 49 points, they are also on course for their most in a season since accumulating 63 in that 1986-87 campaign.
Gracia will be leaning heavily on Deulofeu since talisman and striker Troy Deeney will serve the second of his three-match ban for his elbow to the head of Lucas Torreira in the 1-0 loss to Arsenal on April 15. Andre Gray joined Deulofeu up front in Watford’s customary 4-2-2-2 formation, though Isaac Success could be in the plans if Gracia rotates his other forwards.
Watford’s loss to Arsenal last week ended a five-match unbeaten spell at Vicarage Road, where they are 8-2-6 overall. The sides played to a 1-1 draw at St Mary’s in November, though Southampton were aggrieved not to take all three points after referee Simon Hooper incorrectly adjudged Maya Yoshida had touched the ball in an offsides position prior to Charlie Austin scoring in the 82nd minute.
The Hornets could lay claim for similar frustration, with Hooper failing to award a penalty in the 57th minute after Ryan Betrand clattered into Nathan Chalobah.
Austin and then-manager Mark Hughes vented their frustrations post-match, and the missed call was a key contributing factor in accelerating the timetable to bring VAR to the Premier League starting next season.
Watford have just one win in their last 11 matches (1-5-5) in all competitions versus Southampton and 1-2-1 at home in Premier League encounters.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Watford 2, Southampton 0.
(Gerard Deulofeu photo courtesy Watford Football Club official Twitter account)