2. Bournemouth in the worst of ways: Eddie Howe‘s slumping Cherries played down a man for 45 minutes, and couldn’t make anything of the reprieve handed them by Godfrey’s awful tackle. There was proper desperation from the Cherries, but also never a feeling that Bournemouth would come back.
3. Steve Cook at full stretch is pretty impressive (and illegal): Referee Paul Tierney was almost laughing as he gave Cook a red card for his excellent “save” to push a ball off the post.
Man of the Match: Emiliano Buendia is Norwich City’s shining light. If the Canaries go down, he’s going to be the subject of a recruitment more like relegated stars Idrissa Gana Gueye and Andrew Robertson before him.
Pukki couldn’t get purchase on an earlier chance, but got the job done from the spot.
Cook handled a ball in the box and was shown red, with VAR holding up the clear penalty.
Todd Cantwell was very busy as usual for the Canaries, passing well but also blasting a shot into the upper reaches of the stadium.
Norwich was dominant, outshooting Bournemouth 15-3 when another moment of madness had both teams with 10 players. Godfrey’s late challenge on Callum Wilson sent Tierney to the monitor for a VAR-aided straight red card.
Southampton have won six of their last nine Premier League games and in that period only Liverpool have won more points than them, as Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side have totally transformed their season. Ings scoring over 50 percent of their goals has, obviously, played a huge part in that as he’s scored winners against Tottenham and Leicester in shock back-to-back victories.
The red-hot Saints host Wolverhampton Wanderers this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) hoping to make it six wins in seven in all competitions as their amazing run of form has coincided with Ings being in the form of his life. With that in mind we went along to Southampton’s training ground in England’s New Forest National Park to speak to the man who sits second in the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.
Full disclosure, this is not the first time I’ve met or spoken to Danny Ings. Back in 2015 I was working on a longform story detailing his rise to Liverpool, via Burnley and Bournemouth, as he’d just made his England debut after breaking into Liverpool’s first team as a regular. I visited his dad Shayne and his partner Sue, and spoke to his family and others close to him as he was set to be the next big thing in English soccer at the age of 23.
Ings then ruptured his ACL in Jurgen Klopp‘s first training session as Liverpool boss. And then did it again two years later. He moved to his hometown club Southampton on an initial loan in 2018 and the $26 million deal became permanent last summer. It is the best deal Southampton have made in some time.
With 16 goals to his name in all competitions this season, and 10 in his last 11 appearances in the Premier League, he’s in the form of his life in front of his family and friends. He is dubbed “King of the Scummers” by Saints fans who revel in his two goals in a 4-0 win away at League One Portsmouth, their bitter rivals, in the League Cup earlier this season and he admitted that game, and becoming even more of a local hero, kickstarted his season.
As he smiles widely while rubbing his heavily tattooed hand across his chin, Ings is thriving on the pressure placed on him at St Mary’s, Saints’ home stadium which is only a couple of miles away from where he grew up. The pressure to deliver match tickets each week for friends is one thing, but scoring goals as the No. 9 is on another level altogether.
“I think when I knew when I was coming here, I was inviting a lot of pressure on myself,” Ings said. “To wear the number nine shirt in front of your hometown, there is a lot or pressure in that alone. But for me, because I was playing at Liverpool before that among lots of world class players who I’ve looked up to and tried to learn from, those were the guys who had more questions than I did after back-to-back knee operations. The craving of having that pressure on myself is something that I wanted for so long and coming here excites me to have that pressure because I know if I come off the pitch and I have scored a goal, it means a lot more to me.”
Not content with just scoring goals for his hometown, Ings is also one of very few players who is working hard in the classroom too. He is currently completing an economics degree and is learning to play the guitar when he switches off from being the man of the moment. Add into that his tireless work in the community with the “Danny Ings Disability Sports Project” charity he set up to help children with disabilities, and he’s doing all he can off the pitch.
On the pitch, Hasenhuttl, his boss at Saints, has labelled Ings ‘outrageous’ among other superlatives and recently said that the form of Ings is “due to him working his ass off” every day. Even on his off days. Ings spent his time off in the summer doing one thing: working his ass off.
He was in Portugal and Los Angeles and Miami training with nutritionists and performance coaches, Alex Parsons and Nicky Holender, who worked on building up his core strength ahead of what was a hugely important season.
After three serious knee injuries spread across his time at Burnley and Liverpool, is he making up for lost time?
“For me, I’m just having fun now, my mindset in my career right now is that if I put the work in Monday to Friday, and I know I’ve done everything I’ve done to prepare for the game ahead, I know I can go out and have fun at the weekend,” Ings smiled. “I feel like people are really seeing that in my performances now, I am playing the game, I am smiling, I am happy. When I’m getting the chance I am trying to be as clinical as I can be. I’m not going to score every week, that’s normal. But if I give myself the best chance of getting into those positions, I know that I can score more goals and there are plenty more games still to come in the season.”
His return to form and fitness has led to calls for him to be called up by Gareth Southgate for the English national team in March. Ings is playing it cool when asked about a call up, but his former managers, current teammates and pundits are rallying behind the widely-loved striker who has been through tough times but has shown incredible mental strength to come out of it a better player.
“I would say we are all kind of different players in the way we play for our clubs and the way we have been over the course of our careers, really. Gareth will want a certain striker playing a certain way for him and it is all about what he wants,” Ings said. “The way I am in the system here at the club, it is all about pressing, running behind, not having too many touches on the ball. If that is something that is different to the other lads and how Gareth wants to set his team up, then yeah, I’d say it is definitely a different way for me.”
Playing for Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, Sean Dyche at Burnley, Brendan Rodgers and Klopp at Liverpool and now Hasenhuttl at Saints, the managers Ings have played for are very different and he thanks them all for developing his understanding of the game and all asking him to do different things. But the thing he has always done well is score goals. By the boatload.
Can he explain this glut of goals which has already culminated in his best-ever goalscoring season with 16 games of the season still to go? He has scored plenty of goals this season by sniffing around defenders, pouncing on mistakes and leading Saints’ now famed press under Hasenhuttl.
“It is hard to put my finger on that. Every game I want to try and create as many chances as I can and be in the right positions when the lads are providing. I go back to the momentum, momentum is key,” Ings said. “Any striker will tell you that when you are on a goal run you find yourself ending up in better positions to score goals, your focus is a lot stronger because you have the bug for scoring goals and trying to do the best you can for the team. That is the mindset I’ve been in this season. I am finding myself in great positions because the momentum is there and it is a hunger that we all have as goalscorers.”
Ings is in lethal form at the moment and you will not find one person across the Premier League who is unhappy about it. From his high-pressing to his finishing, plenty of the PL’s big boys will keep sniffing around Ings but he is keen to point out he is very happy at Southampton and isn’t thinking about anything else.
What is achievable for the rest of the season with Saints, a team who had just two wins on the board heading into late November but are now just three points off possible European qualification?
“For every club you want to achieve the maximum you can. We’ve put ourselves in a position now where we have gone further away from where we were and we are edging closer to the teams in and around those [European] places. For us, I feel like it is important we maintain our momentum,” Ings said. “Every game is so tough in the Premier League, you never know what’s going to happen. If we start thinking too far ahead, we might lose a little bit of the focus in the game that is coming at the weekend. You can see how hard the lads are working now to be the best team we can be. You can see how it is clicking and that is the way moving forward. If you look too far ahead you might lose a bit of focus and it is important we don’t do that.”
With Southampton’s fans signing his name loud and proud and hailing him as “one of our own” Ings is a happy man. Back at home, everybody wants to speak with him, everyone wants photos and everyone in the biggest city on England’s South Coast wants tickets to watch him play.
His goals and smiles have been one of the stories of the Premier League season so far as he pushes for the Golden Boot in the final months of the campaign. After his injuries and heartache in recent years, seeing Danny Ings back smiling, and scoring, is a beautiful sight for anybody who loves the beautiful game.
The fact he can now celebrate with his family by jumping on a boat and going fishing in Southampton Water hours after being the hero on the banks of the River Itchen is an added bonus. And one he clearly loves.
That’s now in question, though, as Bournemouth is two points away from the safe places after allowing the Hornets to leapfrog them.
Howe is not shirking responsibility for the problems of the Vitality Stadium set, which is beset by injuries and ice-cold stars. Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser aren’t making much happen whether industrious or not.
“I’m not going to blame anybody, we are trying to do the right thing just haven’t executed it very well. Confidence, nerves, it is such a key thing. We have been on a difficult run and this week key players have got injured. We had players playing that aren’t 100% fit. When you get a setback were not able to lift ourselves in the way we normally would.
“We are not looking free-scoring and when you concede a goal it seems a long way back. We need to focus on both disciplines. The manager always has to take responsibility when things aren’t going well. Instilling confidence back to the players is my job.”
There’s no time for low confidence; Bournemouth has Norwich City next, a match with a chance for the Cherries to keep at least one team in its rearview mirror.
Watford has four wins inside of a five-match unbeaten run under Nigel Pearson and moves 17th with 22 points.
That’s two points better than the Cherries, who sit 19th with 20 points.
Three things we learned
1. Sarr shows what got him to Watford: Senegalese youngster Sarr has experienced in an uneven start to life in the Premier League, but there have been plenty of positives. Last season saw Sarr become a double-digit goal and assist man at Stade Rennais, earning a splashy move to the Hornets.
Sarr’s steal and terrific assist put Watford up 1-0, and he did the lion’s share of the lifting on the second. He entered the day with four goals and two assists in around 1000 minutes for Watford. At his best, Sarr is making himself a huge threat on the other side of Gerard Deulofeu (even if he looks dejected to come off in the 83rd minute).
2. Ice cold Wilson, snake bit Fraser killing Cherries: Callum Wilson had another rough outing to stretch a brutal run into mid-January. He finished a run of five goals in four Premier League matches on Sept. 28. His only goal or assist since that run came against Luton Town in the FA Cup last week. He had 15 and 10 last season.
Ryan Fraser is also struggling, though the effort and craft remain on display sans end product. Fraser was one of the few Cherries to show up on Sunday but has a goal and just three assists this season and nothing since Nov. 23. Last season? Eight and 15.
3. Deputy Travers gets no help : A minor injury suffered by 21-year-old Aaron Ramsdale led to an even younger starting goalkeeper for Bournemouth. Irish backstop Mark Travers got the call, his first PL match of the season after starting in all three of the Cherries’ cup outings. He kept a clean sheet against Spurs in his PL debut last season but then conceded five times in the season finale. It was more of the latter than the former in his two-save Sunday, as Travers gave the ball away a few touches before Watford’s opener.
Man of the Match: Doucoure, Sarr, Deeney, and Etienne Capoue were the standouts for Watford, and Doucoure was ready to go from Moment No. 1 to get our nod.
Ismaila Sarr raced down the right wing off a Bournemouth giveaway, but his touch put him out wide and his ball toward the back post was wide and absent receiver.
At the other end, a long Harry Wilson drive took two turns before Ben Foster recovered it to stifle the threat.
In-form Gerard Deulofeu forced a fine save out of young goalkeeper Mark Travers, who saw the ensuing corner nodded wide of the frame.
Premier League clubs like Aston Villa and Brighton Hove & Albion were dumped out of the FA Cup earlier in the day, but top flight sides had no troubles in the late slate as Manchester City, Bournemouth, and Leicester City all progressed to the fourth round of the competition, while Manchester United and Wolverhampton slogged through a scoreless draw that will require a replay at Old Trafford to decide.
Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers both had a few chances, but produced an otherwise cagey match at Monlieux in a 0-0 draw. Sergio Romero made his presence known with a fabulous reflex save on Matt Doherty on an effort that seemed to wrong-foot the Argentina goalkeeper, but he poked out his right hand to palm away the shot. Manchester United had a penalty shout, but Leander Dendoncker‘s tackle of Brandon Williams was waved off by both the on-field referee and by VAR despite replay showing some dubious contact.
Both teams had big chances in the second half. Manchester United nearly went in front with 20 minutes to go but substitute Marcus Rashford‘s effort was blocked by Connor Coady and while the looping deflection got over John Ruddy, it clanged harmlessly away off the crossbar. In the 77th minute Ruben Neves off the bench headed into the back of the net but was correctly ruled out as the effort came first off his head then his arm. Raul Jimenez then hit the post from an incredibly tight angle with nine minutes to go.
Manchester City survived a slight scare to top Port Vale 4-1. The defending Premier League champs scored first, with Oleksandr Zinchenko firing in via a huge deflection off Leon Legge that helped an otherwise speculative long-range effort. Despite the sudden ejection of life for the visitors at the Etihad, Sergio Aguero restored the lead with a tap-in at the far post, and Phil Foden‘s work in the build-up survived a VAR review.
17-year-old Taylor Harwood-Bellis put Man City 3-1 up in the 58th minute that also passed a VAR check, and Foden was the man to cap off the scoreline with City’s fourth goal.
Leicester City benefitted from a weird early own-goal to take the lead on Wigan Athletic, and that provided the springboard for a 2-0 win as Harvey Barnes found the back of the net for some breathing room before halftime. Wigan’s Tom Pearce somehow bungled in a Marc Albrighton cross with what looked like a striker’s finish to put Leicester City 1-0 up 19 minutes in. Barnes doubled the lead before halftime on the counter thanks again to a deflection, this time off Cheyenne Dunkley.
Philip Billing volleyed home a whipped Diego Rico cross to give the Cherries the early lead eight minutes in, and they finished with a storming 4-0 victory after it was all said and done. Callum Wilson put the game away on 67 minutes after a Luton defensive mistake as the hosts had no issues at Dean Court, with Billing grabbing a second and Dominic Solanke putting the cherry on top.
In an all-League One matchup, Portsmouth got a pair of goals from James Bolton and Marcus Myers-Harness in a five-minute span to down Fleetwood Town 2-1 on the road.