The verve and vigour which characterised Watford’s historic victory at Everton seven days previously was in scarce supply as the Hornets slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Southampton at Vicarage Road.

Che Adams scored what proved to be the winner in the 20th minute in fine fashion, curling a great finish beyond Ben Foster although he was given far too much space to receive the pass and assess his options.

It was not the only time Watford’s defending was to let them down and they were fortunate to be only one down at the break, with Adams and Adam Armstrong both spurning opportunities to at least double the visitors’ advantage at the break.

That said, the Hornets had been inches away from equalising when Sarr had an effort cleared off the line, but the home side’s moments of attacking promise were in relatively short supply in a disappointing first-half performance.

Watford stepped up the pitch in the second half and looked a little better for it, but they still struggled to impose themselves on the game and rarely threatened to equalise until substitute Ashley Fletcher forced Alex McCarthy into a smart save with three minutes remaining.

Ranieri had changed things at the interval, taking off Joao Pedro and Cucho Hernandez. But the move didn’t work out, diminishing the creative options the Hornets had at their disposal and leaving them increasingly reliant on Sarr to make something happen, but the Senegal winger was largely subdued.

The Watford boss made just the one change to the side that performed so impressively to come from behind to stun Everton and it saw Joao Pedro promoted to the starting XI after his good performance off the bench at Goodison Park in place of Ozan Tufan.

Southampton were knocked out of the Carabao Cup on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Chelsea in midweek but their side showed four changes from the one that drew 2-2 at home to Burnley in the Premier League last weekend.

Kyle Walker-Peters, captain James Ward-Prowse, Adams and Armstrong replaced Romain Perraud, Theo Walcott and Ibrahima Diallo who dropped to the bench, while Armando Broja was ruled out through injury.

Ben Foster had to make his first save inside the opening 30 seconds, dropping to his right to keep out the ball after Craig Cathcart had turned a Nathan Redmond cross from the left towards his own net after Jeremy Ngakia’s attempted clearance had been blocked.

Moussa Sissoko was then forced into some frantic defending after Redmond had again got in down the left to pull the ball back, before Armstrong chanced his arm from 20 yards, curling a right-footed effort over the top.

Sarr had a couple of early runs as the game started at a frenetic pace in the fifth minute he was tugged back by Oriol Romeu just outside the D, giving the Hornets a free-kick in a promising position. Cucho Hernandez took the set piece right footed, but it deflected through the wall and McCarthy was able to save comfortably.

It was the visitors though, who were having the better of the opening exchanges but they could have been undone in the 15th minute when Pedro flashed a low ball across the area that nobody in a yellow shirt was able to get on the end of.

However, Watford had a let off soon after when Walker-Peters got in behind on the left and stood up a cross that was too high for Cathcart but Armstrong, coming in behind the Hornets centre-half, headed over the top.

Watford Observer:

The hosts were not so fortunate in the 20th minute when Adams capitalised on some poor defending with a superb finish.

Adams lost his man when he received a pass into the area in plenty of space from left of centre from Aramstrong and curled a fine right-footed effort beyond Foster and into the far corner to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

The response to falling behind was poor from the hosts, who looked more likely to concede a second goal than to equalise for a period.

However, that was inches away from changing in the 32nd minute when a smart clearance from Foster sent Joshua King racing into space on the left, he crossed to the far side of the area where Sarr’s first touch was poor but he still managed to squeeze a shot past McCarthy, only for it to be blocked on the line by Walker-Peters.

From being almost level though, Watford really should have been two down moments later when more poor defending allowed Armstrong to got in on the right side of the area, his cross was missed by William Troost-Ekong and Adams looked to have a straightforward finish, but he headed down into the ground and over from inside the six-yard box.

The frustration among the Hornets fans was mounting and Foster was again left looking nervously behind him when Armstrong flashed another shot not too far wide with 37 minutes on the clock.

Watford were opened up again down their right two minutes before the break, with Sarr again doing little to help out defensively, when Redmond put Walker-Peters in the clear, his pull back again finding Armstrong, who spun and shot over the top.

Pedro received the first yellow card of the contest for a foul on Romeu as the first half moved into stoppage time, with the hosts, on balance, fortunate to be only a goal down at the interval.

Sema and Cleverley were sent out to warm up at the break and they were introduced at the start of the second half for Hernandez and Pedro.

Watford Observer:

The Hornets started with greater urgency, having the first effort when Juraj Kucka fired wide from 25 yards, only to escape again when Adam Masina headed a Redmond cross straight at the feet of Armstrong, who sent a first-time effort narrowly wide of the far post with Foster helpless.

Mohammed Salisu was booked in the 55th minute for hauling down Sarr on halfway and soon after Kucka tried another effort from distance, this one forcing McCarthy to go to ground to save at his near post.

One Southampton yellow card became too in quick succession when Ward-Prowse was penalised, again for a foul on Sarr, but Watford were still struggling to build up any sustained attacking momentum in their quest to get back on terms.

Watford Observer:

King wasn’t too far away from connecting with a deep Masina cross as the game reached its three-quarter point, but moments later Armstrong had another opportunity when he wriggled free in the area and his shot deflected wide past the wrong-footed Foster.

Ralph Hasenhuttl made his first change in the 69th minute when Stuart Armstrong replaced Mohamed Elyounoussi, with the visitors still looking largely comfortable. The home side were looking to get the ball to Sarr at every opportunity but his deliveries often lacked decisiveness, although his options were often limited in fairness.

Ranieri rolled the dice with eight minutes remaining, bringing on Ashley Fletcher for Ngakia and switching to three at the back.

And it was the substitute who came close to snatching an equaliser with three minutes left when he turned and shot around ten yards, forcing McCarthy to dive to his right and save, after King has crossed following positive work by Sissoko. But that was as close as the Hornets were to get to an equaliser as the Saints finished comfortable victors.

Watford Observer:

Watford: Foster; Ngakia (Fletcher 82), Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Masina; Sissoko, Kucka; Sarr, Pedro (Cleverley 46), Hernandez (Sema 46); King. Subs not used: Bachmann, Rose, Louza, Nkoulou, Gosling, Tufan.

Southampton: McCarthy; Livramento, Bednarek, Salisu, Walker-Peters; Elyounoussi (S. Armstrong 69), Romeu (Lynaco 90), Ward-Prowse (Diallo 79), Redmond; Adams, A. Armstrong. Subs not used: Forster, Long, Perraud, Tella, Walcott, Valery.

Bookings: Pedro for a foul on Romeu (45); Salisu for a foul on Sarr (55); Ward-Prowse for a foul on Sarr (58); Kucka for a foul on Redmond (76).

Referee: Peter Bankes.