Watford manager Nigel Pearson warned his side of the dangers of relegation if they don’t stop “giving away” points after a 3-1 home loss to Southampton on Sunday.
Danny Ings produced two excellent finishes to promote his argument for the Premier League Golden Boot, as the Saints realistically secured their top flight status for another season by reaching 40 points.
A bad day for the Hornets began before the kickoff when three players were barred from Pearson’s team for violating coronavirus protocols.
Watford said Andre Gray, Nathaniel Chalobah and Domingos Quina were not included to protect “the health and safety of all players, staff and officials” after Gray hosted a birthday party on Friday with more than six people allowed present.
On the field, Pearson’s men have also got off to a bad start for the Premier League restart with just one point from their first three games, still leaving them one point above the drop zone.
“We were second best for too long,” Pearson said. “You can’t award goals as gifts to your opponents, it makes the job even more difficult.”
Watford is the only team this season to beat champion Liverpool in the Premier League and also beat Manchester United early in Pearson’s reign after taking over in December.
With Norwich, Newcastle and fellow West Ham fighters in their team’s last four games, Pearson remains confident that Watford will be safe if they find their best form.
“We are not achieving the kinds of performances that we know we are capable of,” he added. “We have games left where they are in our own hands, where we can secure our own future in the Premier League.”
Ings could have been representing England this month at Euro 2020 if the coronavirus pandemic had not delayed that tournament for a year, but has resumed where it left off before the three-month interruption.
The former Liverpool striker made a brilliant space for him on the edge of the box before curling up in the far corner in 16 minutes to give the Saints a deserved first half lead.
Watford gave himself a mountain to climb when Ings pounced on Ben Foster’s poor shot to punch at home his 18th Premier League goal of the season and move inside one of Jamie Vardy as the division’s top scorer.
“I just want to score as many goals as I can,” Ings said of his chances of beating players like Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in the Golden Shoe.
Jan Bednarek’s goal briefly gave the hosts hope for a comeback.
However, Southampton restored his two-goal lead in three minutes when James Ward-Prowse made a brilliant free kick in the upper corner.