Southampton 1 Watford 3: Henderson edges Hornets nearer to promised land

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Adrian Boothroyd, the Watford manager, sent a clear and decisive message to Neil Warnock and his stuttering Sheffield United team after this convincing victory at Southampton last night.

The Hornets are now eyeing up that second automatic promotion spot in the Championship behind champions-elect Reading after jumping above Leeds to move to within three points of second placed United, who held a 19-point advantage over Watford on 1 January.

Watford thoroughly deserved to complete a league double over the Saints. Darius Henderson finished this match as a contest with two second-half goals after captain Gavin Mahon had opened the scoring in the visitors' very first attack.

Boothroyd said: "We have earned the right to be here and are loving every minute of it. We will give it our all to reach the promised land. The players have done fantastically well and I know they will push on.''

The home side never recovered after Mahon, the Watford captain, scored after just three minutes when he converted Marlon King's low cross.

Watford confirmed their supremacy when Henderson made it 2-0 on 67 minutes from yet another King centre. Five minutes later a free-kick by Ashley Young saw Mahon nod the ball back to Henderson, who headed it beyond goalkeeper Paul Smith.

Southampton rallied and Andrew Sermon hit the crossbar before Peter Madsen headed home substitute Kamil Kosowski's chipped centre to pull a goal back five minutes from time.

Southampton (4-4-2): Smith; Ostlund, Kenton, Higginbotham, Brennan; Wright (Kosowski, 80), Baird, Chaplow (Jones, 45), Surman; Madsen, Rasiak. Substitutes not used: Miller (gk), Blackstock, Cranie.

Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Doyley, Demerit, Mackay, Stewart; Eagles (Bangura, 66), Mahon, Spring, Young; King, Henderson. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Carlisle, McNamee, Chambers.

Referee: I Williamson (Berkshire).