The storm clouds over Watford and Quique Sanchez Flores have grown much darker tonight after they were beaten 2-1 in their vital basement battle at Southampton.

The Hornets led at the break through Ismaila Sarr’s composed finish and had further opportunities to have been more than a goal to the good at half-time.

The Saints were woeful in the first half though, and an improvement from them, particularly following the introduction of Sofiane Boufal and Shane Long, coupled with the Hornets increasingly looking to shoot themselves in the foot, saw Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men turn it around as their opponents lost all composure.

Danny Ings bundled in the equaliser before James Ward-Prowse curled in a free-kick to deliver a potentially huge blow to the Hornets’ hopes of staying in the top flight.

Sanchez Flores may have been short of defensive options, but he still stuck with five at the back as Adam Masina came in for the injured Craig Dawson.

He also made one other change to the team that started the 3-0 defeat to Burnley, with Sarr preferred to Andre Gray in attack.

Roberto Pereyra and Domingos Quina were fit to be involved in the match-day 18, and with Gray and Troy Deeney alongside them on the bench the Hornets had plenty of attacking options if required.

Hasenhuttl made just the one enforced change to the side that came so close to winning at Arsenal last time out, with Moussa Djenepo replacing the injured Stuart Armstrong.

The Hornets could have been in front inside two minutes when a poor pass inside from Cedric Soares presented Sarr with a clear opening, but he opted to for an early shot and fired straight at Alex McCarthy from just outside the area.

The home side had their first sight of goal soon after when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg fired a dipping effort over from 25 yards after Adrian Mariappa had headed a Djenepro cross from the right half clear.

Those opportunities apart, little in the way of goalmouth action in the first 15 minutes, as the Hornets looked anxious in possession at times, while Etienne Capoue was spending a concerning amount of time worried about the positioning of his team-mates.

The Frenchman was to show his quality in the 23rd minute though, when a superb ball on the turn down the inside right channel put Sarr away in a one-on-one way with Jack Stephens. The Hornets record signing was helped by the ball bouncing off the Saints defender’s leg into his path and Sarr did the rest, keeping his composure to confidently fire across McCarthy to make it 1-0.

Saints tried to respond instantly, but Sarr was to go close to an impressive second soon after when he met a Jose Holebas free-kick played deep to the right side of the area on the volley and the Saints keeper did very well to keep out with his legs.

With the home faithful already getting on their backs, Southampton were rattled and their opponents were almost in and again when Will Hughes sent Gerard Deulofeu away on the right and hiss cross looked destined for Sarr until the Saints keeper got a vital touch on it.

The Hornets were defending well but they were almost caught out when Ryan Bertrand was slipped in on the overlap down the left, but Mariappa did well to block his attempted cut-back.

However, they got closer two minutes before the interval when the ball was worked from left to right where Cedric played a low ball into the award and Ward-Prowse tried an improvised back-heeled flick, sending the ball narrowly wide of the far post.

The home side were so poor in the first half, a reaction was expected after the break.

The Hornets were forced to defend early on when Redmond got in round the back, before the Saints winger received the first yellow card of the evening for leaving a foot in on Kiko Femenia.

Watford were soon back on the front foot though, with Sarr coming inside off the left and firing narrowly over from 25 yards after Holebas’ channel ball had given his team-mate the chance to isolate his marker.

Hasenhuttl made a double change in the 57th minute, bringing on Boufal and Long for Redmond and Michael Obafemi.

Within seconds of entering the fray Long met a corner from the right with a glancing header that was deflected behind.

The Hornets had opportunities to get rid of the ball after clearing the resultant set piece, but they were guilty of over-playing at the back and Mariappa was forced to concede a foul by taking out Djenepro, earning him a yellow card.

This still gave Southampton a free-kick in a dangerous central position, but Capoue’s head got in the way of Ward-Prowse’s right-footed effort.

However, the Hornets were very fortunate to escape when they played Craig Cathcart into trouble, resulting in him quickly laying the ball back to Ben Foster, who performed a Cryuff turn to try and get away from Ings, only to then prevent the Saints striker from getting the ball. Michael Oliver gave the Hornets keeper the benefit of the doubt through.

Sanchez Flores made his first change in the 67th minute, bringing on Gray for Deulofeu, but Watford were continuing to live dangerously and they needed a superb save from Foster to keep them in front, tipping a Boufal effort onto the bar even though the substitute did not connect properly.

The Hornets then had to see through a VAR check for a possible penalty when Djenepro went down in the area, before an opportunity went begging at the other end when Gray laid a superb pass back into the area, only for Doucoure to mishit his attempted finish.

Nathaniel Chalobah replaced Hughes with 16 minutes of normal time remaining before Hasenhuttl completed his changes with Yan Valery coming for Cedric.

Valery’s first involvement was to swing over a cross from the right from which Saints had men over, Ings cut it back and Long looked certain to score, only for Cathcart to clear off the line.

But the Hornets were not so fortunate a minute later when Djenepro latched onto a deep ball from the left, he danced past Holebas with far too much ease and closed in on Foster before laying it back for Ings to bundle home and equalise.

Sanchez Flores made his final change with eight minutes to go when Dimitri Foulquier replaced Femenia. The substitute’s first involvement was to try and help defend a free-kick – the Hornets were unable to do it.

Ward-Prowse took the set piece from left edge of the area and whipped it up and over the wall, Foster got two hands to it but was unable to keep it from going inside his near post.

Watford looked beaten and bereft of ideas but six minutes of injury time afforded them extra hope.

They almost salvaged a point when a Holebas deep hooked cross from the left was helped back in by Sarr and then Doucoure for Gray to volley narrowly wide with McCarthy rooted to the spot.

Sarr then struck a deep cross from the right which the back-tracking keeper tipped over and with that went a lot more than three points.

Southampton: McCarthy; Cedric (Valery 76), Stephens, Bednarek, Bertrand; Djenepo, Hojbjerg, Ward-Prowse, Redmond (Boufal 57); Obafemi (Long 57), Ings. Subs not used: Gunn, Yoshida, Adams, Romeu.

Watford: Foster; Femenia (Foulquier 83), Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina, Holebas; Docoure, Capoue, Hughes (Chalobah 74); Sarr, Deulofeu (Gray 67). Subs not used: Gomes, Deeney, Quina, Pereyra.

Bookings: Redmond for a foul on Femenia (48); Mariappa for a foul on Djenepro (58).

Referee: Michael Oliver.