Birthday boy Stephens sends Saints into round five

By SFC Media time Sat 27 Jan Saints v Watford
Photo by Matt Watson | Jack Stephens
Sat 27 Jan 3PM
English FA Cup
Stephens [4']
Soares (62')
yellow card
Watson (61')
Referee: Robert Madley | Venue: St Mary's Stadium | Attendance: 25,195

Jack Stephens was the hero as he marked the occasion of his 24th birthday with his first goal for the club to send Saints into the fifth round of the Emirates FA Cup.

The defender seized his moment very early in the game, reacting quickest to a loose ball at a set-piece in the fourth minute at St Mary’s.

Saints were superior for the most part, particularly in the first half, while Watford’s bumper contingent of travelling fans taunted their own team as Alex McCarthy remained a virtual spectator in the home goal.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg thundered a shot against the crossbar in a bid to make the game safe, while Guido Carrillo was introduced to a hero’s welcome for his Saints debut eight minutes from time.

Mauricio Pellegrino made three changes to his starting line-up following an encouraging display against Tottenham Hotspur last time out in the Premier League.

Shane Long and Sofiane Boufal returned to the XI along with Steven Davis who captained the side, while Manolo Gabbiadini, James Ward-Prowse and Mario Lemina dropped to the bench.

Also among the substitutes was new recruit Carrillo, who would have to make do with a big warm coat over the top of his number nine shirt for the time being.

Saints wasted no time in getting on the front foot. Within four minutes of kick-off, from a free kick wide on the left, Ryan Bertrand delivered a cross Watford could not defend.

Long’s initial shot was saved on the line by goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, but birthday boy Stephens was in the right place to slot home his first goal for the club, more than six years since making his Saints debut in the same competition.

20180127 Southampton vs Watford FA Cup
Jack Stephens celebrates his first goal for Saints in the fourth minute

Pellegrino’s men continued in the ascendancy as Long charged to the byeline and cut the ball back for Cédric, who was just unable to make contact when any sort of touch would have doubled the lead.

The lively Long, having recovered from a nasty collision with the hoardings from the same attack, then glanced a header wide from a Dušan Tadić cross.

At the other end, Watford failed to make the most of a free kick in prime shooting territory as Richarlison blazed over to spurn a rare opportunity to test McCarthy.

The early goal had done wonders for Saints’ confidence, showcased by one particular move involving a series of players who exchanged intricate passes on the edge of the box, before Boufal’s cross was headed to temporary safety.

The visitors may have had a new man at the helm, but no instant “bounce” was apparent, as head coach Javi Gracia was subjected to watching his team be outplayed for most of the first half.

Cédric, sensing a day of firsts, sent Karnezis stooping to his right to make a decent save as he set about breaking his own duck on Saints appearance number 80. Stephens took 39.

Pellegrino was dealt a setback five minutes before the interval as Bertrand hobbled off, replaced by Jérémy Pied at left-back. Hopefully no more than a precaution with key games against Brighton and West Brom looming.

It did nothing to stem the flow of pressure. Tadić’s wonderful close control attracted defenders and created a void for his best mate to fill, as Cédric charged on the outside and fired neither a shot or cross beyond the far post. In being caught after striking the ball, the Portuguese called for a penalty to no avail.

McCarthy, still a spectator up to this point, was finally called into action in the final seconds of the first half.

Only Richarlison will know whether he meant it, but his innocuous floated chip from a position wide on the left suddenly had the Saints keeper backpedalling and acrobatically tipping the ball over for a corner.

20180127 Southampton vs Watford FA Cup
Shane Long tries to lift the ball over Orestis Karnezis in the Watford goal

Gracia must have been underwhelmed by what he had seen, and reverted to the same formula that paid dividends for predecessor Marco Silva at Saints’ expense a fortnight ago: a half-time switch to 4-4-2.

On came Stefano Okaka and before long Roberto Pereyra, as the Hornets struggled to contain the swarming Saints.

Boufal wanted a penalty when bundled over in the box, while Long twice darted in behind the Watford defence but twice lacked conviction with his finishing.

In fairness to Gracia, his positive changes led to a far more competitive last half-hour, as the sea of yellow behind McCarthy’s goal gradually gained in belief.

Ben Watson and Cédric traded yellow cards for hefty challenges as the game took on more of a cup tie feel.

Højbjerg thought he had cemented Saints’ place in round five when he let fly with a rocket of a shot from 30 yards, but it thundered back off the crossbar to deny the Dane a goal to remember.

Still Watford had not carved out a notable chance, but Pellegrino was suitably concerned to sacrifice Boufal in favour of a supplementary defender as Maya Yoshida was introduced.

Saints knew a second goal would seal it. Cédric was inches away from reaching Pied’s teasing cross, before Richarlison flashed one across goal to spark nervous murmurs among the home supporters.

They were rising in anticipation when Long broke at pace and looked to feed Carrillo, but the substitute lost his footing at the vital moment.

Watford’s best chance was still to come. Okaka acrobatically volleyed over, before Christian Kabasele headed wide when unmarked in the dying seconds, as Saints held on to progress into the last 16.


Head to Head Stats

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Alex McCarthy (GK)
Jack Stephens goal
Wesley Hoedt
Ryan Bertrand
replace Jérémy Pied (40′)
Cédric Soares yellow card
Sofiane Boufal
replace Maya Yoshida (67′)
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg
Steven Davis (C)
Dusan Tadic
replace Guido Carrillo (83′)
Oriol Romeu
Shane Long
Guido Carrillo
James Ward-Prowse
Mario Lemina
Fraser Forster
Jérémy Pied
Manolo Gabbiadini
Maya Yoshida


Orestis Karnezis (GK)
José Holebas
Daryl Janmaat
replace Jerome Sinclair (74′)
Adrian Mariappa
Christian Kabasele
Abdoulaye Doucouré
Etienne Capoue
replace Stefano Okaka (45′)
Ben Watson (C) yellow card
Andre Gray
André Carrillo
replace Roberto Pereyra (57′)
Isaac Success
Daniel Bachmann
Marvin Zeegelaar
Jerome Sinclair
Roberto Pereyra
Stefano Okaka
Sebastian Prödl
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