Ward-Prowse inspires Saints fightback


Southampton mounted a stirring comeback at Brighton to claim a point, as a brilliant double from James Ward-Prowse earned them a 2-2 draw at Amex Stadium.

It had looked like for some time as though it would be a miserable trip along the south coast for Saints, who fell two behind in the first half and also lost Tino Livramento to what appeared to be a serious injury.

But they rallied behind their captain, who scored his ninth and tenth goals of the season, netting either side of half-time, first with a trademark free-kick and then with a thunderous low drive from 20 yards.

It meant Saints, who now move to 40 points, finished the happier of the two teams, despite missing the chance to climb a few places in the table, including above their opponents.

Ralph Hasenhüttl made six changes from the side that had lost 2-0 at Burnley on Thursday night, as Livramento, Mohammed Salisu, Nathan Redmond, Nathan Tella, Shane Long and Ché Adams all came into the starting line-up, with Lyanco, Yan Valery, Romain Perraud, Stuart Armstrong, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Armando Broja dropping to the bench.

If Saints were hoping for a start that would wipe away some of the memories of the trip to Turf Moor, they were to be quickly disappointed.

Brighton, who hadn’t scored at home in five games – a run stretching back to mid-January – needed only one attack and less than two minutes to find the net here.

It came via a Marc Cucurella cross, with his low delivery from the left fizzing into the six-yard area, where Fraser Forster, Salisu and Enock Mwepu all converged on the ball at the same time. That resulted in it taking a ricochet into the path of a grateful Danny Welbeck, who had the simple task of tapping it into an empty net from close range.

Saints did at least respond to the setback and, after two Long efforts that Robert Sánchez made routine saves from, they went within inches of equalising on 13 minutes.

After working the ball across the pitch to Livramento deep inside the Brighton half, the full-back took a touch forward and sent in a low shot from 25 yards, which clipped Cucurella on its way to slamming against the base of the far post. Further misfortune followed off the rebound, as the ball cannoned off the back of Sánchez and spun across the face of goal, agonisingly out of the reach of Adams’s outstretched leg, before drifting wide.

It signalled the end of that particular spell of pressure, as the hosts went back on the attack.

First, Forster was required to make a smart save at his near post from Welbeck, after the ball had been worked to the forward on the left of the area, before Brighton had a goal ruled out for offside, with Lewis Dunk’s header from a corner being diverted in by Neal Maupay, who had drifted too far beyond the last defender.

While falling behind early had represented a bad start, the worst moment of the first half for Saints arguably came shortly after the half-hour mark, as Livramento went down with what appeared to be a serious injury, following what looked a fairly innocuous challenge on Mwepu. After a lengthy stoppage, the teenager was taken off on a stretcher with his left leg in a brace, as both sets of supporters applauded. In his place, Perraud was sent on, with Kyle Walker-Peters shifting to right-back.

Things then got even worse for Saints in the 44th minute, as Brighton doubled their advantage. Leandro Trossard’s defence-splitting pass from a central position 30 yards out was intended for the run of Welbeck, but it never reached its target, as the back-tracking Salisu desperately stuck out a foot to intercept it, only to send it across goal and into the far corner.

Still, though, there was time for Hasenhüttl’s side to get themselves back into the game before the break, and it was no shock that they halved the deficit after Tella was fouled 25 yards out in the fourth minute of added time. The only surprise came from the fact that Ward-Prowse didn’t put his free-kick into the top corner, instead cleverly whipping a low shot past the wall, just inside the far post, to continue his phenomenal dead-ball run.

Neither side made any changes at half-time and, no doubt buoyed by the goal right before the interval, Saints began in far better fashion than they did the first. They made it count in the 54th minute, when Ward-Prowse struck again to level the game at 2-2.

Tella was the instigator, driving forward into the Brighton area before cutting back and laying the ball to Oriol Romeu 18 yards out. He then played an exquisite back-heel right into the path of the Saints captain, who slammed a thumping right-footed shot from 20 yards into the bottom corner, before racing to celebrate in front of the delighted travelling support.

On the hour mark, those fans then almost had a third goal to celebrate, but Long’s shot towards the far post from 18 yards was well held by a diving Sánchez.

Saints’ second change then came midway through the second half, as Tella, who had taken a couple of knocks, was replaced by Stuart Armstrong after a strong display.

The tension began to crank up as the game went into the final 15 minutes, and there was drama in the 78th minute, when Brighton substitute Pascal Groß thought he had put the hosts 3-2 ahead, crashing in a low shot from 20 yards, only to have been narrowly offside when the ball was played to him.

Saints’ third change followed immediately, as Broja was sent on in favour of Long, but there was not enough time for either team to find a winner, as the points were shared.