Watford continue to bemuse their supporters and manager alike. Their dire home form saw them toppled from the Championship summit after holding a 10-point lead, but victories seem to come easily on their travels. This ultimately comfortable win over Southampton, their ninth away from Vicarage Road, came through goals from the midfielder Damien Francis and strikers Marlon King and Darius Henderson. Home results, however, continue to puzzle Adrian Boothroyd.
"We dug in and were resilient and I thought that we did what we needed to do," said Boothroyd. "We were strong, disciplined and got back to basics in many ways. I wish we could transfer some of that stuff into the home form. We have been very good away from home but have only collected two points from 21 at home. If I knew what was going wrong, I would do something about it."
Southampton created their fair share of chances in an entertaining first half. The striker Bradley Wright-Phillips came close on nine minutes with a fine shot. He should have converted a free header on 24 minutes but failed to get any power on it. Watford, meanwhile, were uninspired.
The opening goal, in injury time at the end of the first half, was a bitter blow for Southampton. The winger Tommy Smith crossed the ball low into the penalty area for Francis, who stole ahead of the Southampton defender Andrew Davies before firing the ball past Kelvin Davis. Watford's travelling supporters rejoiced. George Burley, Southampton's manager, cursed his luck. "I thought that we had the most of the first half," said Burley. "We looked very strong and got into some very good positions. Watford did not have many attacks. You do not win football games through possession alone. There has to be end product and you must defend well."
Watford's players oozed confidence after the break and with Southampton on the back foot, their captain Youssef Safri conceded a free-kick at the edge of the penalty area. King, the Jamaican international striker who has been widely linked with a January transfer window move to the Premier League, stepped up and stroked the ball high into the corner of the net for his 11th league goal of the season. The win was secured on 62 minutes. Southampton's defenders stood off Henderson, who fired a shot from the edge of the penalty area that flew under a despairing dive by Davis.
Boothroyd, however, knows the season has a long way to run, and will resist looking too far ahead, especially after his side squandered that sizeable lead.
"It is going to go to the wire," he said. "It is an unbelievable league and very competitive and that's why you have to be at your best every game. Everybody got carried away when we were top of the league but I never thought that."
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Wright, Davies, Bennett, Thomas; Euell, Viafara, Safri, Surman (Hammill, 88mins); Wright-Phillips, John (Rasiak, 61mins). Substitutes not used: Bialkowski (gk), Skacel, Licka.
Watford (4-4-2) Lee; Stewart, Demerit, Shittu, Doyley; McAnuff, Francis, Williamson (Mariappa, 86mins), Smith (O'Toole, 73mins); King, Henderson. Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Ellington, Ainsworth.
Referee: Fred Graham (Essex)