Whether you thought a run in the FA Cup was a hindrance or not, the manner in which Watford ultimately exited this season’s competition was certainly of no help at all in a period when the Hornets appear to be treading water.

In a pretty poor game where the lure of a trip to Liverpool often seemed undesirable to both teams, Watford bowed out with little more than a whimper.

It’s now five without a win. Three without a goal. If being within touching distance of the play-off places only a few weeks ago exceeded expectations, then the more recent form is an indication that being within sight of the top six is quite possibly going to be as close as Watford get.

While there were no league points at stake tonight, it was still an opportunity to get back on track, boost confidence and, if it was to end in defeat, at least go down fighting.

Instead, there was no intensity in anything Watford did. They contributed as little as the hosts did to a tepid first half, and then just fell away after half-time when Southampton upped the tempo.

In fact, there was nothing good to take away from the game. None of the seven players who came in did anything to further their cause, and it merely showed that the squad does look uncomfortably thin.

Something needs to revitalise and reignite Watford. The days when they were steamrollering Preston and fighting back to beat Blackburn feel so, so long ago.

The lack of goals, the lack of wins and the drop-off in performances presents Valerien Ismael with his biggest test since he arrived at the club and had to overhaul most things on and off the pitch.

And what could you want less when you hit the skids than a visit at the weekend from the team running away with the league?

If the transfer window was underwhelming and didn’t provide the shot in the arm most people felt the squad needed, then what the immediate antidote to the current run is – and how quickly it is applied – will decide whether a potentially promising season stays that way or goes into a painful, damaging decline.

As expected, while it was a strong team chosen by Valerien Ismael, there were still seven changes from the XI that started against Cardiff on Saturday.

In came Dan Bachmann, Tom Dele-Bashiru, Ryan Porteous, Francisco Sierralta, James Morris, Mileta Rajovic and Ken Sema.

All seven of those replaced were on the bench, as was 16-year-old first-year scholar Amin Nabizada. The winger has been a regular scorer and performer for Tom Cleverley’s Under-18 side this season.

Played in constant rain, the first half was a pretty grim affair played at a low pace with not much intensity.

Matheus Martins dragged a shot wide before Dibling got behind the Watford defence and flashed a low ball across the six-yard box.

Bachmann parried and then gathered a long-range effort from Downes, and then Ismael Kone struck a similar effort but the ball took a nick on the way through, looped over the stranded Lumley and clipped the top of the bar.

From the resultant corner, Porteous headed into the side-netting from the back of the six-yard box.

The best chance of the half came in the 29th minute as Adams got on the end of a cross, Bachmann saved with his legs and just as Adams looked set to tap in the rebound, Hoedt cleared.

Kone met a Martins cross with a side-footed effort that didn’t test Lumley before the Brazilian nearly gifted the home side a lead.

Just inside his own half he turned and played a pass straight to Adams, he turned and broke, slid the ball to Dibling and he in turn played in Smallbone on the right of the box. Bachmann had to dash off his line and save with his legs.

The home side moved up a gear after the restart and two goals in the first 12 minutes gave them a stranglehold on the game.

In the 51st minute a clever dummy enabled Mara to get behind the Watford defence and he drilled an angled shot past Bachmann.

Six minutes later it was an even better goal from Mara, who hammered the ball into the top corner after a flowing move that started on the right and ended up with him on the left.

The Hornets made three changes in between the goals, and then a fourth after it became 2-0 with Bachmann going off – presumably injured – and Ben Hamer taking over.

The two goals zapped what little life there was in the game back out of it, and for the next 20 minutes it was back to little of anything note at either end.

Then, in the 74th minute, the home side wrapped up their trip to Liverpool, if it even was in any doubt.

It was all too simple as well, as Rothwell sent in a low free kick and Adams got ahead of the defence to turn the ball past Hamer.

Six minutes from the end there was very nearly another for the home side as an errant pass in midfield allowed Edozie to run through on Hamer. His low shot beat the keeper but came back off the base of the post.

And, in stoppage time, Amo-Ameyaw also the post with Hamer beaten.

Watford: Bachmann (Hamer 59); Dele-Bashiru, Porteous, Hoedt, Morris (Lewis 52); Sierralta, Kone (Ince 89), Chakvetadze (Andrews 52); Martins, Rajovic (Bayo 68), Sema (Asprilla 52). Subs not used: Livermore, Pollock, Nabizada