Southampton moved up to 10th in the Premier League table as James Ward-Prowse’s first-half brace helped them to a comfortable 3-0 win against West Brom at St Mary’s, on the day they signed Charlie Austin from QPR for £4 million.
The 26-year-old, who completed his move this afternoon, was watching from the stands and would have been impressed as Saints took the lead through Ward-Prowse’s brilliant free-kick after five minutes – his first goal of the season. The England Under-21 captain added a second from the penalty spot 10 minutes before the break, before substitute Dusan Tadic put the game out of sight with 18 minutes left to play.
Ronald Koeman decided to make two changes to his side as Victor Wanyama returned to the starting line-up following a two-match suspension, with Oriol Romeu dropping to the bench, and Ward-Prowse came into the team for Jordy Clasie, who wasn’t fresh enough to be named in the 18-man squad.
For Tony Pulis’ visitors, Craig Gardner replaced the injured James Morrison and Victor Anichebe started up front in place of Salomon Rondon, with Saido Berahino, and former Saint Rickie Lambert, once again named on the substitutes’ bench.
These two mid-table teams drew 0-0 in the reverse fixture at the Hawthorns back in September, and there had only been three goals in the last five top-flight meetings between the duo.
The South Coast outfit had also failed to score in their last three matches against the West Midlands outfit, but there was to be no repeat of that when Sadio Mane was fouled by Craig Dawson 25 yards from goal to the left of centre in the fifth minute.
Ward-Prowse, who had only scored one Premier League goal in 92 previous appearances, rewarded his manager’s faith by stepping up and curling a magnificent free-kick into the top left-hand corner of Boaz Myhill’s goal.
The Baggies soon had a chance of their own to level the scores though as Craig Gardner headed narrowly wide from James McClean’s cross.
The same player also had his side’s other best chance of the half, but he sliced his half-volley from the edge of the penalty area well over Fraser Forster’s bar following a clever pull back from Stephane Sessegnon.
Shane Long had a great chance to score against his former team when he led a breakaway by the home side, but he could only shoot straight at Myhill.
The second goal soon followed though when Matt Targett got on the wrong side of Dawson in the penalty area, and the defender took the young left-sided player down, leaving Martin Atkinson with no choice but to point straight to the spot.
Ward-Prowse confidently stepped up and sent Myhill the wrong way from 12 yards with a powerful low finish into the left-hand corner.
Targett could have added a third before the break when his low effort was cleared off the line by McClean, with Myhill well beaten.
Pulis made a double substitution at half-time with Chris Brunt and Salomon Rondon replacing Darren Fletcher and Jonas Olsson respectively at half-time, but it did little to change the pattern of play.
Saints had the chance to put the game out of sight before the hour-mark when Shane Long put Mane through in the area, but the Senegal forward was stretching and could only poke the ball wide.
A last-gasp intervention from Dawson stopped Long bearing down on goal from Mane’s flick on, before Anichebe shot wide for the visitors in a rare second-half opportunity.
The game was put out of sight with 18 minutes left to play when Dusan Tadic added a third after brilliant work from Steven Davis, who ran 30 yards before playing a clever reverse pass into the Serbia international, who finished with power across Myhill from the corner of the six-yard box.
Southampton have now won two on the bounce and three in a row at St Mary’s in the league, scoring nine and conceding none in the process, while the returning Fraser Forster has two shut-outs since his return from injury.
Meanwhile, West Brom were unable to replicate the performance that enabled them to take a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea in midweek, and they stay 13th, seven points above the relegation zone.
Ronald Koeman: “A very good final result and the first time we have scored against them [in my time].”
On Ward-Prowse: “He’s brilliant. It’s one of his qualities. In a difficult game when you have some difficulties in creating good chances, that free-kick is so important.”
On Charlie Austin: “I hope [he will bring] goals because that’s the reason he was our target for this transfer window. We need a player like him and he is 26. It’s good to have him now and it gives more competition. We always try to make the squad stronger and stronger. He was our number-one target and I am very happy that Charlie Austin is a Southampton player. The message is that we bring one player in, and still no-one will go out.”
Tony Pulis: “Southampton were the better team. We had no spark and it will be interesting to see how many teams have played their second team away this week and how many have won, or even picked up points. We looked tired but we’ve done really well away from home this season. We needed a spark or something to drop for us.”
On injuries: “Morrison has ruptured his hamstring so he could be out for 6-8 weeks. Fletcher will have a scan tomorrow after his knee opened up.”
On the busy schedule: “It’s very difficult to play two away games in a week just after Christmas.”
Fraser Forster – 7
Cedric Soares – 7
Jose Fonte – 7
Virgil van Dijk – 8
Ryan Bertrand – 8
Matthew Targett – 7
Steven Davis – 8
Victor Wanyama – 7
James Ward-Prowse – 9
Sadio Mane – 7
Shane Long – 7
Dusan Tadic – 7
Oriol Romeu – 6
Cuco Martina – 5
Boaz Myhill – 5
Craig Dawson – 4
Gareth McAuley – 5
Jonas Olsson – 5
Jonny Evans – 5
Stephane Sessegnon – 5
Darren Fletcher – 4
Claudio Jacob – 6
Craig Gardner – 6
James McClean – 6
Victor Anichebe – 5
Chris Brunt – 6
Salomon Rondon – 5
Saido Berahino – 5