Controversy surrounds Southampton’s draw with Watford
Late Holebas goal denies Saints a Premier League victory.
Southampton failed to ease the pressure on manager Mark Hughes as their winless run stretched to eight games following a controversial 1-1 draw with Watford.
Hughes looked set to taste Premier League success for the first time in more than two months thanks to Manolo Gabbiadini’s first-half finish.
But Jose Holebas equalised with a deflected strike nine minutes from time to earn a deserved point for the Hornets.
Southampton had reason to feel aggrieved as Charlie Austin had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside at 1-0, while the hosts were extremely fortunate not to conceded a second-half penalty when Ryan Bertrand, who had already been booked, scythed down Nathaniel Chalobah.
Saturday’s draw leaves Saints with only one win from their last 17 top-flight fixtures in front of their own fans and came at the end of a turbulent week off the pitch.
The struggling south coast club responded to a slump dating back to last season by sacking vice-chairman Les Reed and technical director Martin Hunter during the week.
Thursday’s boardroom departures followed a miserable run of form in the top flight, culminating in last weekend’s 6-1 drubbing at Manchester City.
Hughes, who signed a three-year contract in the summer after narrowly guiding the club to safety, insisted the dismissals would not adversely affect his position.
His own reaction to the thrashing by champions City was to make three changes, handing rare starts to Maya Yoshida, Stuart Armstrong and Gabbiadini in place of Jack Stephens, James Ward-Prowse and Shane Long.
On a rain-soaked afternoon, Saints were quickly on the back foot against the high-flying Hornets.
Gerard Deulofeu broke clear on to Kiko Femenia’s pass only to be denied by the strong right arm of Alex McCarthy, while Wesley Hoedt’s last-ditch block was required to prevent Isaac Success a free shot at goal.
Saints chairman Ralph Krueger was watching on from the stands and he had reason to smile with 20 minutes played.
Watford failed to clear a Bertrand corner and, after Danny Ings dispossessed the dawdling Roberto Pereyra, striker Gabbiadini was left with a simple, first-time finish past Ben Foster.
It was the Italian’s first goal since he claimed the crucial winner at Swansea in May which led Saints to safety from relegation, and his side’s first from open play in more than 10 hours.
Both sides suffered blows before half-time with Southampton top scorer Ings limping off to be replaced by Austin, and Hornets striker Troy Deeney – absent for three games with a hamstring problem – required to replace Will Hughes.
Watford’s frustrated players surrounded referee Simon Hooper in the 57th minute when Chalobah – making his first league start of the season – was taken down by Bertrand for what looked to be a certain penalty.
There was controversy at the other end nine minutes later after Austin buried Nathan Redmond’s cut-back from the right.
With Saints’ players celebrating on the touchline, assistant referee Harry Lennard stood with his flag. Replays suggested the offside decision was given against Southampton defender Yoshida, who was standing near Foster’s goal but did not touch the ball.
Following the reprieve, the visitors began to dominate proceedings and levelled in the 81st minute.
Holebas collected Ward-Prowse’s partially-blocked clearance, advanced just inside the box and hit a left-footed drive which deflected in off Cedric Soares.
Watford almost completed a late turnaround two minutes later when a goalmouth scramble led to the ball striking the crossbar following a Holebas corner.
The full-time whistle was greeted by boos from some home fans, while there were jeers aimed at the match officials as they left the pitch.