Saints settle for stalemate with Watford


Southampton were held to a goalless draw by Championship outfit Watford in their latest pre-season outing ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.

With little to report after a tightly contested opening 45 minutes in London, the returning James Ward-Prowse went closest to breaking the deadlock after the break, while Gavin Bazunu preserved a cleansheet at the other end.

Seven of the starting eleven completed the full 90 minutes, with Saints in action twice more before the opening day trip to Tottenham in a fortnight’s time.

Back in England after returning from a week-long training camp in Austria in midweek, manager Ralph Hasenhüttl fielded a strong looking starting XI at Wealdstone’s Grosvenor Vale.

Captain Ward-Prowse claimed his first minutes of pre-season after missing the RB Leipzig and SK Austria Klagenfurt friendlies with a knock, while goalkeeper Bazunu returned between the sticks after sitting out Saints’ last run out.

The Irishman, along with his opposite number Daniel Bachmann, was untested in an uneventful opening 10 minutes, before quick-fire chances at either end.

Finding a pocket of space, Stuart Armstrong’s clever ball over the top spotted the deep run of Joe Aribo, only for Bachmann to race from his line to cut out the midfielder’s attempted lob.

With the home keeper still receiving plaudits from the Watford supporters, Bazunu was quickly called into action when Edo Kayembe’s low drive from the edge of the box was well held.

Beginning to trade blows, Ward-Prowse attempted to take centre stage at the midway point of the half, first forcing Bachmann into a routine save with a long-range strike, before picking out Stuart Armstrong with a clever free-kick routine, which the Scotsman could only skew wide on the volley.

Acting as a final pre-season outing for the Hornets ahead of their Championship campaign beginning in nine days, Rob Edwards’s side perhaps possessed a sharper edge to their play, albeit finding clearcut chances hard to come by.

In a relatively tame opening 45 minutes, wing-backs Kyle Walker-Peters and Moussa Djenepo saw plenty of the ball as they pressed high up the pitch for Saints, while the midfield trio of Ward-Prowse, Aribo and Roméo Lavia showed signs of burgeoning chemistry in the middle of the park.

Making just two changes at the break as Lyanco and Ché Adams replaced Armel Bella-Kotchap and Adam Armstrong, the visitors began the second 45 in determined manner.

Good work from Stuart Armstrong down the right flank ended with a cross that found Ward-Prowse on the edge of the box, with the captain curling a strike inches wide after working a yard of space just inside the box.

In the thick of it, the England international went close again moments later, this time firing a 20-yard free-kick uncharacteristically over the bar in what proved to be his final act, as Ibrahima Diallo took his place.

Having been on the back foot, the Hornets almost stung Saints against the run of play with two quick-fire chances as the game moved towards final 20 minutes.

Emmanuel Dennis firstly had a shot deflected over the bar by Lyanco, leading to Francisco Sierralta heading a yard wide from the resulting corner.

As often is the case in friendlies, a succession of substitutions for both sides disrupted the tempo of the game in the closing stages, as Southampton were forced to settle for a draw for a second game in succession.