In England, as with most countries, an invitation to the national team is the basic metric for excellence. Although James Ward-Prowse didn’t an opportunity to add to his solitary Three Lions caps, the 24-year-old has already proved doubters wrong this for Southampton.
Ward-Prowse was among several new entries expected in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the upcoming European Championship qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro. Southgate’s assistant, Steve Holland, even showed up at St Mary’s on Saturday to witness another stunning Ward-Prowse goal which proved to be the winner against Tottenham Hotspur. The ex-Chelsea number 2 must have been bewildered by what he saw.
Up against a rampant Spurs side and down 1-0 at half time, the Saints were very much staring down the barrel. With Cardiff City torturing West Ham at home, the Saints looked set to finish the week in the relegation zone.
Even the most optimistic Saint might not have anticipated a turnaround of fortunes. Ward-Prowse and his cohorts, though, had other ideas, sparking an exceptional comeback to stun Mauricio Pochettino’s men 2-1, finishing the week a couple of points clear of the drop zone.
Yan Valery began the comeback, lashing unto Stuart Armstrong’s low drive from the left. Ward-Prowse sealed all three points with just 10 minutes to go in spectacular fashion. He curled a set-piece over the Tottenham wall to beat Hugo Lloris at his top left corner. It was Southampton’s second victory over a north London side, after beating Arsenal back in December.
Ralph Hasenhuttl orchestrated a magnificent upturn in fortunes since joining in December. The Saints have managed four wins and three draws from their last 10 Premier League outings since the turn of the year. However, the relegation worries continue to haunt them despite pinching points against the likes of Leicester City, Spurs, Chelsea and Everton.
It is no coincidence that Ward-Prowse is clicking under his new boss. The 24-year-old has started each of Southampton’s last 11 games in the Premier League, contributing with six goals, all of them in 2019. The Austrian has not only reinstated him in the first-team as a regular starter but also made the most of his versatility, shuttling between defensive and attacking midfield roles.
“He is young, he is physically very strong, he can play all three games in a week with a lot of running,” his manager said. “That is no problem for him and that is a good basis of being successful in the future.’
Ward-Prowse – who has made over 100 Premier League appearances – was also used sparingly under former boss Mark Hughes. I think it comes automatically because he is now more in a position where he has a chance to score.”
This wasn’t the case in previous seasons. Blessed with innate control, dribbling and set-piece ability, Ward-Prowse really flaunted them. Although born in Portsmouth, the 24-year-old’s career began in the South Coast in 2003. There were highs and lows along the way albeit inconsistency ruined his progress.
No shame being left out by Southgate, especially when the midfield is littered with the likes of Ross Barkley, Fabian Delph, Eric Dier and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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