Southampton thought they had this one wrapped up. In the 66th minute, Charlie Austin swept home a strike from the edge of the penalty area and it appeared that Mark Hughes’s side had overcome a torrid run of form by recapturing that winning feeling.
Austin sped towards the dugout, where he embraced substitute Jack Stephens and was mobbed by his team-mates. The celebrations lasted just short of a minute and they were rapturous.
And then everybody turned around. They turned around to see referee Simon Hooper with his arm raised and pointing for an indirect free-kick. The precious second goal would not stand. What? How?
Watford defender Jose Holebas celebrates after scoring a late equaliser against Southampton with a deflected strike
Holebas managed to find the net for Watford in the 82nd minute of the game with a deflected effort from just inside the area
Troy Deeney, who entered the fray for Watford as a substitute, is delighted after his side manage to pull level
Watford players celebrate with Holebas after the defender’s goal saw them draw level at St Mary’s Stadium
Manolo Gabbiadini scored the opening goal of the game for Southampton in the 20th minute on a sodden south coast
PLAYER RATINGS, MATCH ZONE AND TABLE
Southampton (4-2-3-1): McCarthy 6.5; Cedric 6, Hoedt 6, Yoshida 7, Bertrand 6, Lemina 6, Hojbjerg 6.5; Redmond 6.5 (Obafemi 90), Gabbiadini 7, Armstrong 6.5 (Ward-Prowse 74, 6); Ings 5.5 (Austin 40, 6)
Subs not used: Gunn, Vestergaard, Stephens, El-Younoussi
Manager: Mark Hughes 6
Booked: Cedric, Bertrand, Hojbjerg
Watford (4-4-2): Foster 6; Femenia 6.5, Mariappa 6.5, Cathcart 6, Holebas 7; Hughes 5.5 (Deeney 40, 6), Chalobah 6.5, Doucoure 7.5, Pereyra 5 (Gray 68, 6); Deulofeu 6.5, Success 6
Subs not used: Gomes, Kabasele, Wilmot, Masina, Okaka Manager: Javi Gracia 6
Booked: Deulofeu, Chalobah Goals: Holebas 82
Manolo Gabbiadini opened the scoring for Southampton following good work from Danny Ings. Click here for more stats from our MATCH ZONE.
Season at a glance
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- Premier League
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- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
It had appeared innocent enough, as Nathan Redmond shuffled the ball across to Austin, who finished confidently. Yet replays showed Maya Yoshida standing just outside of the six-yard box.
Perhaps the officials decided the Japanese defender was stood in the eyeline of Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster and interfering with play? Nope. Foster had not appealed. Instead, the referee explained to players that Yoshida had touched the ball. Yet he had not.
And at what cost comes this optical illusion? Certainly two points, as Watford cancelled out Manolo Gabbiadini’s opener through a deflected Jose Holebas strike 16 minutes later.
Austin was furious. ‘It’s ridiculous, they shouldn’t be in the game,’ he said. ‘The officials cost us two points. They said it was offside — that is a joke. I’m angry, we should have won 2-0. People go on about VAR, they clearly need help. If this is the best, most-watched league in the world then give them all the help they need. It’s a joke.
‘Sure, there are many positives; we worked hard, we deserved three points — and we would have got that had we not been let down by the official.’
Gabbiadini applauds the Southampton supporters after opening the scoring against Watford at St Mary’s
The striker demonstrated excellent composure to find the net and put Southampton in the ascendancy
Maya Yoshida (left) and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (right) celebrate with Gabbiadini following the striker’s goal
Gabbiadini is congratulated by his team-mates, including Danny Ings, who played a part in the goal
Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah expresses his frustration after he had a penalty appeal turned down in the second half
As for Hughes, the consequences may be damaging. He spun in the dugout and slashed his hand against his thigh as Watford equalised.
‘It’s a match-defining moment,’ said Hughes, criticising Hooper, who was making only his fourth Premier League appearance. ‘We’ve been given an inexperienced referee. Our game is just as significant to us as the Manchester derby to those clubs. But would they have given him that game? Absolutely not. VAR needs to come in. All major sports have video reviews but the Premier League is still in the dark ages.’
Hughes did concede that Watford had refereeing frustration of their own, as Hooper also missed Ryan Bertrand mistiming a lunge on Nathaniel Chalobah with the score at 1-0. Bertrand had his head in the ground and a penalty — and a second yellow card for the Southampton captain — seemed inevitable. Instead, Hooper confounded reason and expectations once more. Hughes said: ‘It looked a penalty and they got that wrong as well. Maybe that backs up my argument.’
Chalobah felt that Watford should have been awarded a penalty after he was challenged by Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand
Charlie Austin thought that he had scored a second goal for Southampton but his effort was disallowed
Southampton striker Austin complains to referee Simon Hooper after his effort was ruled out for an apparent offside
Austin continued to argue his point forcefully to the officials after the final whistle had blown at St Mary’s
Southampton’s Mario Lemina attempts an overhead kick during his side’s clash with Watford
Watford manager Javi Gracia added: ‘Chalobah told me it was clear, then maybe it changes the game from that moment. I prefer to support the referees’ decisions and I accept the decision.’
Hughes’s less understanding response underlined a fraught week in which both Southampton vice chairman Les Reed and technical director Derek Hunter were relieved of their duties.
The statistics do not aid his cause. Southampton have won only five of 28 matches since he took over towards the end of last season. This was an eighth consecutive match without a win.
The spotlight now shines more brightly on Hughes.
Southampton defender Wesley Hoedt attempts to find the net with a header during the first half but it flies over
Ings has been hugely unfortunate with injuries in his career and had to be substituted with another problem in the first half
Southampton defender Cedric Soares attempts to retain possession under pressure from Watford’s Roberto Pereyra
Southampton midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is involved in a midfield battle with Watford’s Will Hughes
Watford’s Isaac Success looks to keep the ball while he is being challenged by Mario Lemina of Southampton
Lemina finds himself placed under a considerable amount of pressure by Chalobah in an intense battle
Mark Hughes, whose position at Southampton has been under much scrutiny, was frustrated after his side were held to a draw