Two goals in a frantic finale by the substitute Darius Henderson put Watford on top of the Championship yesterday after an encounter that was a credit to the division, even if it broke the hearts of Southampton and their fans.
Henderson, who has just signed a new contract at Vicarage Road, was left out in favour of the club's record £3.5m signing Nathan Ellington but came off the bench to replace the former West Bromwich man on 66 minutes and won the game for Adrian Boothroyd's team after Southampton had come from behind.
Although they will feel hard done by, Saints were indebted in large part to Kelvin Davis, who made a string of breathtaking saves to give his team a platform from which to launch assaults.
However, with the first half drawing to a close, Davis misjudged a centre and, when Tommy Smith put the ball back in, Danny Shittu headed home.
Watford then committed the cardinal sin of losing concentration just after scoring and Grzegorz Rasiak hauled Saints level with a beautifully executed strike. The provider was Nathan Dyer, the latest product of Southampton's youth policy.
Dyer seemed to have earned his team all three points with a glorious strike, cutting from the left before bending a shot past Mart Poom, but Henderson had other ideas, bursting forward to convert Lloyd Doyley's centre for 2-2 before bundling the ball over the line in stoppage time when Saints failed to clear a cross by Adam Johnson.
"I wanted to tear a strip of them for putting us behind but it shows what character they have," said Boothroyd, who at one stage was on the verge of selling Henderson. "We've had to build a couple of bridges, but Darius told me that whenever he plays, we win and it seems he's right."
The Saints manager, George Burley, tried to look on the bright side. "We had most of the possession and that's four good performances even though we've only had two wins," he said.
Goals: Shittu 41 (1-0); Rasiak 45 (1-1); Dyer 69 (1-2); Henderson 80 (2-2); Henderson 90 (3-2).
Watford (4-4-2) Poom; Stewart, Shittu, Demerit, Doyley; McAnuff (Johnson, 59), Mahon, Williamson (Mariappa, 81), Smith; King, Ellington (Henderson, 66). Subs titutes not used: Lee (gk), Priskin.
Southampton (4-4-2) Davis; Wright, Thomas, Makin, Vignal; Dyer, Safri, Viafara, Surman (Ostlund, 87); Rasiak (Wright-Phillips 63), John (Euell, 45). Substitutes not used: Bialkowski(gk), Saganowski
Booked: Watford Williamson (58)
Referee: G Salisbury (Lancashire).
Man of the match: Henderson.
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