McCarthy 7; Soares 6, Hoedt 7, Yoshida 6, Bertrand 6; Hojbjerg 7, Lemina 6; Armstrong 7 (Ward-Prowse (73rd) 6), Redmond 6 (Obafemi 90th), Gabbiadini 8; Ings 6 (Austin (40th) 6)
CONTROVERSY reigned supreme on the south coast after both Southampton and Watford felt they were robbed of victory by bungling officials.
But while Hornets boss Javi Gracia refused to point the finger of blame at referee Simon Hooper for failing to award them a blatant second-half penalty, opposite number Mark Hughes was rather less forgiving.
Maybe the Saints’ desperate need for a morale-boosting first home win of the campaign was behind their manager’s post-match blast over the offside decision that stopped Charlie Austin making it 2-0 in the 67th minute.
Had that been allowed, the hosts would surely have taken the points and be sitting three clear of the relegation zone.
As it is, six games without a win at home is the worst start to a campaign in the club’s history – and only goal difference is keeping them out of the bottom three.
Time for Hughes to let rip. The under-pressure Saints chief said: “It was clearly a goal. The ref said it hit Maya Yoshida on the way in but he was a yard away from Charlie’s shot. That would have made it 2-0 and in my opinion would have finished the game. Our performance was good and deserved three points.
“We were given an inexperienced referee. It was his fourth game at this level. Would he be given the Manchester derby? Absolutely not. He was not up to the standard required.”
Hughes was then asked what he made of the penalty incident at the other end. He added: “That proves my point. He got that wrong too.”
That rant was in stark contrast to the considered, measured response of Gracia a few minutes earlier.
The Hornets chief, who is close to agreeing a new three-year deal, said: “It was impossible for me to see but WATFORD: Foster 7; Femenia 6, Mariappa 7, Cathcart 6, Holebas 8; Doucoure 7, Chalobah 6, Hughes 6 (Deeney (40th) 7), Pereyra 7 (Gray (68th) 7); Deulofeu 6, Success 7 Nathaniel Chalobah told me it was clear. Their player had already been booked and may have been sent off. So it would have changed the game. But I prefer not to talk about the referee. He has a difficult job.”
Hughes’ preparations had been rocked on Thursday by the sacking of his boardroom ally, vice chairman Les Reed.
The trouble is that since Hughes was given a three-year deal in the summer there has been little sign of progress and improvement.
The mood among the home fans beforehand was about as dark as the thunderous weather battering the region. And it was nearly a case of ‘it never rains but it pours’ for Hughes as the visitors, who had lost last weekend at Newcastle, began well.
They should have scored after four minutes but Gerard Deulofeu had too much time to think before Saints stopper Alex
McCarthy saved smartly. Manolo Gabbiadini S Hooper Fulham (A), Nov 24 Liverpool (H), Nov 24 Moments later Isaac Success also went close for the visitors with a deflected effort.
Wesley Hoedt’s towering header was stopped by Ben Foster but the one-time England keeper was helpless to prevent Manolo Gabbiadini firing in from the resulting 19th-minute corner.
Roberto Pereyra was the Hornets’ culprit, miscontrolling in the box – and the Italian hitman pounced to break his duck for the campaign.
The Saints faithful mockingly chanted: “We want two” – which was sound advice because Watford soon regained a foothold after the break.
They were denied a spot-kick in the 57th-minute when Ryan Bertrand hacked down Chalobah. Somehow Hooper failed to see the foul.
Ten minutes later Austin thought he had sealed a priceless win only to have his celebrations cut short by the offside flag.
Not for the Saints striker but for Yoshida, who was deemed to have headed the ball in. No wonder Austin slammed the decision as a ‘joke’.
That led to a frantic finale that brought Watford their just reward in the 82nd minute. It needed two lucky ricochets for the ball to arrive at Jose Holebas’ feet and then a huge deflection for the Greek midfielder’s blistering effort to beat McCarthy.
SOUTHAMPTON: ■ PLEASED AS PUNCH: Jose Holebas celebrates his equaliser STAR MAN:REF: Southampton’s next game: Watford’s next game: ■DUMBFOUNDED: Charlie Austin cannot believe his strike has been ruled out ■SWEET STRIKE: Holebas levels things up at St Mary’s