25/02/2012: Watford 0-3 Saints

Saints went back to the top of the table following a comfortable 3-0 win over Watford. The visitors didn't really have to break sweat, coming up against a poor Hornets side. The early stages of the contest were fairly sloppy, with misplaced passes from both teams. That remained the pattern until the 13th minute when Saints took the lead. Jose Fonte floated a long ball into the box for Rickie Lambert, who looped his header over a badly positioned Tomasz Kuszczak. After the goal Nigel Adkins's men had the ball in Watford's half for long periods. Saints weren't really cutting through their opponents with swift attacking play like we know they can, but nevertheless, they still played a solid passing game. It was 2-0 on 21 minutes when Adam Lallana skilfully worked himself some space, before cutting the ball back to Lambert, who side-footed into the bottom corner. Saints grew in confidence as the half wore on and never looked like allowing Watford a route back into the game. The hosts struggled to create any worthwhile chances, and had to make do with set pieces, which were all dealt with comfortably by Kelvin Davis. The only downside of the first half was the injury to Lallana, who was forced off after 30 minutes. Lambert was also seen limping, but remained on the pitch into the second period.

Saints enjoyed a decent spell of play early in the second half, although great football proved to be difficult once again, mainly due to the awful playing surface. Tadanari Lee had a great chance to score his second for the club, but his fiercely struck volley went narrowly over. At the other end John Eustace had a rare opportunity in front of goal, but his weak header sailed wide. Lee went close again on 71 minutes, but his close range shot was parried by Kuszczak. The Japanese star threw himself into the rebound and was fouled in the process, earning Saints a penalty. Lambert made no mistake from the spot to make it 3-0. Jack Cork came agonisingly close to making it 4-0, but his curling effort flew just past the post. The game fizzled out slightly towards the end, but the final result was never in doubt

Certainly not the most entertaining of games, but a very important win for Saints nonetheless. Nigel Adkins's team usually receive plaudits for their attacking play, but recently the defence has been equally impressive. Saints have conceded just one league goal this month, thanks to superb organisation at the back. The return to fitness of Jos Hooiveld has certainly helped too. The only worry for Saints after today is the fitness of Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert. The pair were deservedly nominated for Championship player of the season this week, and it goes without saying their contributions are vital for us. Assuming they return soon though, there's no reason why Saints shouldn't continue their march towards the Premier League.

Attendance: 13,424 (1,955 Saints fans)

Match Ratings:

Davis: 7. Didn't have too much to do. Easily caught every long ball that was floated into the box.

Butterfield: 6. Looked understandably rusty at time, but did well going forward.

Fonte: 7. Some excellent clearances to keep out any potential danger.

Hooiveld: 7. Usual solid showing. Dealt with everything thrown at him.

Fox: 7. Not really tested defensively, but put in some good long balls.

Chaplow: 7. Worked very well up and down the line, with some good challenges.

Cork: 7. Great energy levels. Involved in good attacking play all game.

Schneiderlin: 7. Occasionally slightly lackadaisical on the ball, but some nice flicks/overhead kicks to keep things moving in midfield.

Lallana: 7. A very good 30 minute showing. Opened up space for the second goal with his skill.

Lambert: 9. Three more goals and a great all round display. Brought others into the game with great link up play.

Lee: 8. Formed a great partnership with Lambert. A constant threat in the Watford box, only thing he was missing was a goal.

Substitutes:

Puncheon: 6. Worked hard, although his final ball was lacking somewhat.

Hammond: Didn't really have enough time to make much of an impact.

Connolly: Received a frosty reception from the Watford fans who still haven't forgiven him for leaving 15 years later.