Southampton clinched an important win on Saturday evening as they defeated fellow strugglers Watford 2-1.
It was a closely contested affair, and the Hornets raced into a lead in the first half. Ismaila Sarr capitalised on some sloppy defending from Jack Stephens to fire the ball beyond Alex McCarthy.
The second half brought more encouragement for Southampton, who began to probe the Watford defence with more poise and purpose.
After a period of pressure, in which Ben Foster came to Watford’s rescue following a close-range effort from Shane Long, Saints were able to breach the visitors’ resistance.
Moussa Djenepo carried the ball to the by-line, and despite replays showing that he gained an unfair advantage via an unintentional handball, his low cross was slammed home by Danny Ings, who netted for the third consecutive match.
Soon after, Southampton found themselves in front. Etienne Capoue hauled down Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg just outside the box, and James Ward-Prowse’s excellent free-kick proved too forceful for Foster to keep out.
The win saw Saints close the gap on their relegation rivals, and also condemn Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores to a second dismissal from the club.
Here are our Southampton player ratings from the victory.
Alex McCarthy - 7
McCarthy’s save to deny Sarr on the volley in the first half was exceptional. His distribution was poor, but he did his job effectively.
Cedric Soares - 4
Cedric was very poor and bringing on Yan Valery proved to be a good decision from Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Portugal international was lackadaisical at the back and uninspiring going forward.
Jack Stephens - 5
Stephens was largely solid, but it was his error that gave Sarr a clear chance to fire home. He looks more assured than he has done previously, but he must not undo his hard work with silly mistakes.
Jan Bednarek - 6
Bednarek was somewhat quiet but went about his business reasonably well. His positioning was questionable at times, though, and he’ll need to be better against teams with greater attacking quality.
Ryan Bertrand - 6
Bertrand found space well down the left but wasn’t used as much as he’d have liked. He is another player whose defensive positioning left Watford with a little too much room in the first half.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg - 5
Hojbjerg did well to win the free-kick that Ward-Prowse dispatched, but he continued to underwhelm. Watford weren’t dominant in central areas, and the captain should have controlled the game with more composure.
James Ward-Prowse - 6
Ward-Prowse, in truth, had a really poor game. He was sloppy on the ball and didn’t use possession effectively. However, in a pivotal moment – perhaps for Southampton’s season – he stepped up and scored a fine free-kick.
Moussa Djenepo - 7
Djenepo was erratic at times, but he was always a livewire. His energy, direct running and trickery posed Watford with plenty of problems. Albeit in fortuitous circumstances, his assist for the opening goal was impressive.
Nathan Redmond - 5
Redmond looked bright early on, but his influence waned as Watford began to drop deeper. He was substituted for Sofiane Boufal, and it was the right call from Hasenhuttl.
Michael Obafemi - 5
Obafemi worked tirelessly but had little impact. He’s at his best with the play in front of him, where he can utilise his underrated vision and through passing. However, he was very quiet against Watford.
Danny Ings - 8
Ings is clearly Southampton’s best player, and he is arguably the only one who has stepped up to the plate consistently this season. He found good positions against Watford and instinctively stabbed home a crucial goal.
Shane Long – 5: Long missed two great chances. Typically, he was poor in front of goal, but he found space well.
Sofiane Boufal – 9: The best player on the pitch by a country mile. Boufal came on and mocked the Watford defenders, taunting them with his quick feet and movement. He changed the game and was fantastic.
Yan Valery – 6: Valery had one shaky moment at the back as Southampton’s defence was stretched. On the whole, though, the team played more expansively and with more intent with the Frenchman on the right instead of Cedric.