Shane Long scores after 7.69sec in Southampton’s draw at Watford

This must count as one of the Premier League’s more surreal occasions, and not just because John Barnes graced this stadium’s turf again, this time with microphone in hand, to bellow a karaoke version of Rocket Man during the half-time interval. More remarkable still was Southampton scoring within eight seconds of Watford’s kick-off, or Shane Long’s continued transformation from shot-shy workhorse into prolific goalscorer. It was only when reality bit late-on that Watford made their own impression on the night.

The point secured courtesy of Andre Gray’s pummelled finish 25 seconds from the end of normal time hoisted the FA Cup finalists into seventh place, and was arguably merited after frenzied late pressure. Yet, even then, it was their catastrophic start, a comedy of errors from the kick-off, which still drew all the focus. “A strange game, an even stranger start,” said Javi Gracia, their manager. Long, substituted before the end and interviewed in the tunnel, cursed the fact that the lead he had secured while plenty were still taking their seats had not forced his own team further from the relegation zone. He was oblivious to the fact he had made history.

The Irishman had scored with the sixth touch of the game. There had been a pass slid back matter-of-factly by Roberto Pereyra from the centre-spot and cushioned control from Craig Cathcart, deep inside Watford territory, which probably left the ball marginally under his feet. Even so, it seemed awkward rather than perilous. Yet there was Long sprinting to close him down, leaping up on the half turn and charging down the attempted clearance. Cathcart was caught on his heels as the ball rebounded behind him and tantalisingly into space.

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The striker sprinted on to it unchecked, prodding it on and then clipping his finish over the advancing Ben Foster from just inside the penalty area. His celebration, arms held wide and hint of a salute, was that of a man who could hardly believe his luck. It was officially timed at 7.69sec, comfortably beating Ledley King’s previous record of 9.82 against Bradford back in December 2000. Just as implausible was that Long, who in January ended a run of 1,320 minutes without a Premier League goal, has now scored three times in four games.

He is a player revived under new management as, indeed, is this team. “Shane has, a bit, the image that he doesn’t score so much, but that was another amazing performance,” said Ralph Hasenhüttl. “The game we play at the moment, the style of football with immediate transitions forwards, he likes to play. He’s very quick and is an intelligent player who knows where he has to be to be dangerous. He will not forget this game. He did something historic in the Premier League.”

Shane Long has taken the record for quickest Premier League goal off Spurs’ Ledley King, who had held it since December 2000. 

1 Shane Long 7.69sec 
Watford 1 Southampton 1, 2019 

2 Ledley King 9.82sec 
Bradford 3 Tottenham 3, 2000

3 Alan Shearer 10.52sec 
Newcastle 2 Man City 0, 2003

Hasenhüttl’s only regret was that the freakishly bright start did not prove the prelude to Southampton moving eight points clear of the bottom three. They had sliced through their opponents at will during that first period, the excellent Nathan Redmond a menace on the flank and Long a man possessed.

Twice the visitors struck the outside of a post, first through Redmond via a smart save from the goalkeeper, and then Ryan Bertrand as he capitalised on the winger’s cross and Long’s flick. The striker’s assured collection under pressure, cradling a lofted pass on his instep in the build-up to Redmond’s chance, reflected soaring confidence. He probably should have added a second, first nodding James Ward-Prowse’s cross wide and then Redmond’s centre over the bar.

Pos Team P GD Pts
16 Southampton 35 -17 37
17 Brighton 35 -22 34
18 Cardiff 35 -35 31
19 Fulham 35 -43 23
20 Huddersfield 35 -49 14

Southampton would end up regretting that profligacy. They never really quelled the threat posed by Gerard Deulofeu but aside from Angus Gunn’s smart save from Gray within three minutes of Long’s goal, had kept the home side at arm’s length until caution overwhelmed them at the last. Further and further they retreated, their back three a blur of blocks and stretched tackles, and Watford were invited to conjure up some rhythm. It would take another smart save from Gunn to deny Pererya from close range but with the pressure relentless, they cracked as full time approached.

The ball ricocheted around a cluttered penalty area, no visiting player able to hit it clear, before it broke for Gray to lash the ball high beyond the goalkeeper via a deflection from the unfortunate Maya Yoshida.

Southampton’s players were crestfallen at the final whistle, Hasenhüttl spurning the chance to punch the air in front of the travelling support when, in truth, a point at Vicarage Road is to be celebrated.

The six-point cushion from Cardiff should prove to be sufficient, but the man who has overseen a remarkable revival – he inherited a team beneath the cut-off with nine points from 14 games – is targeting a home victory over Bournemouth on Saturday to see them home.