Southampton hit four goals at St Mary’s for the first time since 2017 to overwhelm Brentford and continue their perfect start to the new year.
Saints began as they meant to go on, as Jan Bednarek’s third goal in five league games set them on their way inside five minutes, before Vitaly Janelt levelled things up for the Bees against the run of play midway through the first half.
Ibrahima Diallo thought he’d scored his first Premier League goal to restore Saints’ lead before the interval, though his shot struck the foot of the post and then cannoned in off goalkeeper Álvaro Fernández for an own goal.
Armando Broja extended the lead four minutes into the second period, racing away from the Brentford defence to score and leave the visitors dispirited, before substitute Ché Adams added the gloss with a fourth goal 20 minutes from time.
Ralph Hasenhüttl made three changes to his starting line-up following the mammoth effort to progress to the Emirates FA Cup fourth round on Saturday, having played for more than 90 minutes with 10 men at Swansea.
Stuart Armstrong and Jack Stephens dropped to the bench, while the suspended Yan Valery missed out altogether, prompting Lyanco, Diallo and Mohammed Salisu – himself back from a ban – to return.
Hasenhüttl has often praised the adaptability of his squad this season, which is much deeper than last, and few would have predicted the way Saints would take to the field.
Matching up Brentford’s 3-5-2 system, Saints started with Nathan Tella and Romain Perraud as wing-backs, with James Ward-Prowse, Oriol Romeu and Diallo making up a compact midfield three behind the unchanged front two of Nathan Redmond and Broja.
It was like they had been playing this way for years, as Saints tore into the Bees from the start.
Tella lashed a loose ball over the bar from 20 yards even before the hosts earned the first corner, from which Ward-Prowse’s wicked near-post delivery was glanced in by Bednarek for his third goal in five Premier League games.
Saints were not about to let up. Broja chased Redmond’s pass into the channel, waited for support and chose to ignore it, using Tella as a decoy to go alone, brilliantly reaching the byline and pulling an inviting ball across goal that was begging for a touch that never came.
The visitors had been outplayed but did offer a warning before the equaliser arrived, as Ivan Toney air-kicked a clipped ball in behind Lyanco.
It was left to teammate Janelt to show his top scorer how to volley, as Bryan Mbeumo darted down the right and crossed over the head of Toney, perfectly into the path of the onrushing German, who dispatched an unstoppable strike into Forster’s bottom-right corner from 12 yards.
Janelt had a taste for it, and soon sent the Saints keeper sprawling down to the same corner with a cleanly-struck shot from 25 yards that had to be parried to safety.
It was a rocky spell for the home team, who responded on the half-hour with a sustained spell of pressure.
Diallo jinked his way into a crossing position, before the ball was recycled and Saints tried again down the same side – their left – as this time Perraud’s delivery found a way through to Romeu, whose stabbed effort lacked conviction and sailed over.
More importantly, Saints had regained the momentum, and the lead was to follow soon after.
Another Ward-Prowse corner caused problems, this time flying over the head of intended target Lyanco, but fell kindly at the feet of Diallo, who showed impressive technique to keep over the top of the bouncing ball, drilling a low shot into the turf that skidded up awkwardly in front of Fernández.
Diving to his right, the keeper’s luck was out as Diallo’s shot struck the inside of the post and nestled in the back of the net via the Spaniard’s back, thus cruelly depriving the Frenchman of his first Premier League goal.
Fernández was next seen leaping through the air to deny Diallo’s compatriot, as Perraud’s header from Redmond’s right-wing cross looked destined for the top corner only for the keeper to claw it out.
Holding a half-time lead has been familiar territory for Saints this season, but the victory has not always followed, so the sight of Broja bearing down on goal four minutes into the second period was always going to be a key moment.
Latching on to Romeu’s through ball, the Albanian was clearly onside but still had plenty to do. Blessed with the pace to get himself across the last defender, he took the chance confidently, slotting the ball inside the far post via the slightest of touches from Fernández that was not enough to deviate the ball from its intended destination.
Brentford did push for an equaliser, but the closest they came was via a Saints player, as Lyanco gave Forster a fright with a near-post interception that just whistled wide.
Hasenhüttl’s first change 20 minutes into the second half was to give Nathan Redmond a rest, as the forward departed to a standing ovation from a buoyant home crowd, replaced by Adams who was back after a positive Covid test.
Makeshift wing-back Tella, who had run himself into the ground, departed for Stuart Armstrong soon after, but it was Adams who made the biggest impact.
Keeping himself onside, the striker was alert to Diallo’s long ball from deep and raced in behind the Brentford defence, getting there before Fernández to delicately lift the ball beyond the keeper for goal number four.
To their credit, the visitors did not give in, but Saints’ desire never dropped, summed up by a wonderful last-ditch tackle from captain Ward-Prowse to deny substitute Yoane Wissa, before Forster improbably kept out Mbeumo with an outstanding late stop.
It was party time at St Mary’s, as the crowd celebrated the most convincing home victory since beating Everton by the same scoreline under Mauricio Pellegrino in November 2017.