13/01/2016: Saints 2-0 Watford
Saints got back to winning ways, with an impressive performance against Watford. The home side dominated throughout, with Ronald Koeman getting his tactics spot on. Saints played good football, created chances and never gave Watford a sniff at the other end. The win puts the team up a place to 12th.
Koeman elected to start with three at the back again, this time bringing in Ryan Bertrand as the third central defender. The team was setup in a positive manner, with full-backs Cedric and Matt Targett given freedom to attack at will. Oriol Romeu and Jordy Clasie provided constant support for the defence, giving Saints plenty of balance.
The opening 10 minutes or so wasn't very easy on the eye. Neither side managed to get to grips with the ball, but by the quarter hour mark Saints had asserted themselves on proceedings. Sadio Mane set the tone with a 13th minute chance. Then on 17 the hosts had the lead. Targett collected the ball out on the left flank before crossing into the centre of the penalty area for Shane Long, who got beyond his man to head into the far corner of the net.
Saints looked incredibly comfortable after going ahead. Koeman's side pressed Watford's defence to great effect. Long, Mane and Steven Davis regularly won the ball back, with Saints adapting much better to the wet conditions. Saints set the tempo of the game, building slowly from the back before gradually increasing the tempo in the final third.
Mane looked to be in for a certain goal on 21, only for Heurelho Gomes to pull off a superb save, tipping the ball just wide of the post. Targett then when close with a long ranger. Long had a shot blocked before Watford had a rare opportunity on the counter after Cedric slipped in the rain. Mane missed another glorious opening on 36, this time hitting the post after breaking free on goal. Just before half-time the Senegalese forward tried an audacious lob after rounding the keeper out wide.
The second-half wasn't too dissimilar to the first with Saints continuing their dominance against a poor Watford side. Davis was just ruled offside after completing an excellent side-footed finish on 65. Watford had a brief spell where they saw a bit more of the ball without really threatening where it mattered. Romeu hammered the ball at Gomes on 67. Two minutes later Virgil van Dijk sent Davis' free-kick across goal. Long just couldn't quite get his foot to the ball and Mane could only stretch his leg enough to hit the side netting. Mane then hooked just wide after being played in by Long.
That was Mane's last act of evening. He was replaced by Dusan Tadic, who immediately made his presence felt. The Serbian took down Davis' pass just outside the area before getting beyond the Watford backline and shooting through Gomes' arms for 2-0. Saints had a couple of chances to extend their lead further in the latter stages of the contest. Tadic shot wide on 88 before Long was thwarted by Jose Holebas.
Saints badly needed a win by any means necessary, but to achieve it in the manner that we did was most pleasing. Koeman correctly identified Watford's weaknesses and maintained the perfect balance within his own side. The midfield duo of Romeu and Clasie allowed Saints' wing backs and front three to thrive. Everyone put in a shift and performed to the best of their abilities. Saints have nothing meaningful to play for now, but it would be nice if we could build on this performance and generate some consistency.
Forster: 6. Great to have him back. Kicking slightly rusty early on, and only had to make one simple save, but his presence added calmness to the defence
van Dijk: 7. Made himself useful at the attacking end of the pitch once again, and entirely comfortable in defence
Fonte: 7. Kept Igahlo extremely quiet. Made it look easy
Bertrand: 7. Coped fine in an unfamiliar role. Made a number of well-timed tackles
Cedric: 7. Slightly off it in spells early on, but grew into the game really well. Used his pace to good effect and showed off some decent skill
Targett: 8. Looked confident from the word go. Delivery superb and defensive timing perfect
Romeu: 8. Superb in the tackle once again and a fine range of passing. Dictated the pace of the game
Clasie: 8. First time he's completed 90 minutes in a Saints shirt. Complemented Romeu perfectly, incessantly chasing down every ball
Davis: 8. Worked the ball well, even in the tightest of pockets. Made some great late runs into the box
Mane: 7. Did everything but score. Sharp all evening. Created a number of chances out of very little
Long: 8. A handful all evening with his strength and movement. Never stopped running
Tadic: 7. Gave Saints an immediate lift as he so often does when coming on from the bench
Yoshida: Made a few routine clearances
Pelle: Just seemed to be feeling his way back in
Saints: Long (17) Tadic (73)
Attendance: 28,399 (2,470 Watford fans)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Saints line-up: Forster, van Dijk, Fonte, Bertrand, Cedric (Yoshida 81), Targett, Romeu, Clasie, S Davis (Pelle 81), Mane (Tadic 71), Long
Subs not used: K Davis, Martina, Ward-Prowse, Juanmi
Watford line-up: Gomes, Nyom (Ibarbo 68), Britos (Cathcart 72), Prodl, Holebas, Jurado, Watson, Cappoue, Abdi (Anya 61), Deeney, Ighalo
Subs not used: Arlauskis, Paredes, Behrami, Guedioura