JAVI GRACIA was unable to stop the Watford rot as Jack Stephens celebrated his 24th birthday with Southampton’s FA Cup winner.
The former England Under-21 defender scored the first goal of his Saints career when he pounced from close range after keeper Orestis Karnezis could only parry Shane Long’s fourth minute shot.
It was the perfect start for struggling Southampton and immediate confirmation of just how much work Gracia has on his hands after replacing Marco Silva as Hornets boss this week.
Saints manager Mauricio Pellegrino had resisted the temptation to throw £19million Guido Carrillo in from the start following the striker’s £19million move from Monaco this week.
That meant a lonely battle up front for the ever-willing Long, who chased every ball and never allowed Watford to play their way out from the back.
Southampton were still smarting over Watford’s injury-time equaliser during their 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road two weeks ago.
And they were not allowed to forget that incident by the 4,000 travelling supporters, who constantly goaded their hosts with chants of “Abdoulaye Doucore, he scores with his hands.”
But there was precious little else for the Watford fans to smile about as their team struggled to halt their disturbing recent slump.
They almost snatched an unlikely equaliser right at the end of the first-half when Richarlison’s over-hit cross looked as though it was going to sail over Alex McCarthy’s head until the Saints keeper tipped over at full stretch.
It was hard to disagree with those disgruntled Hornets singing “we’re f****** s***” as their team continued to struggle after the break.
Long wasted two decent opportunities to finish the tie for Southampton and Sofiane Boufal was convinced he should have had a penalty when he was barged over from behind by Andre Carrillo.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg rattled the crossbar with a thunderous 30-yard effort midway through the second-half but Watford’s lack of threat meant that one goal was always going to be enough for Southampton to claim their place in the last 32.
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