Just one week ago, Football FanCast lamented James Ward-Prowse’s failure to consistently grab games by the scruff of the neck after scoring the only goal in an FA Cup win over Fulham. The one-cap England international may have done it against Championship opposition, but that only epitomised the infuriation that accompanies him; Ward-Prowse boasts all the technical ability a Premier League player could want but during his 155 top flight appearances to date, he’s very rarely transitioned it into match-winning prowess.
And thus, the curse of the commentator – or in this case, the writer – strikes again. Rather than being a rare reminder of what the 23-year-old is truly capable of, the winning goal against Fulham appears to have been something of a turning point for Ward-Prowse, who followed it up with a vital brace against Watford in Saturday’s 2-2 draw.
His opening strike was delicately placed into the bottom corner, but it was the previous movement rather than the finish itself that made the goal happen – ghosting into the box to feed off a backheel from Dusan Tadic. For his second goal, meanwhile, the midfielder became the spare man on the counter-attack, another well-timed run leaving Ward-Prowse with little to do but slot past the goalkeeper as Saints marauded up the pitch on the break.
The other aspects of Ward-Prowse’s game remained predictably solid; completing the most tackles, taking the most shots and launching the most accurate crosses of any Saints player. So if Ward-Prowse can combine that technical consistency with the movement and instinct to regularly find the net, he’ll no doubt become a crucial player for Southampton in the coming weeks – especially as the south coast side find themselves only one point clear of the relegation zone ahead of Stoke City’s visit to Manchester United.
With just nine top-flight goals to date, however, that’s still a very big if – but one Gareth Southgate will no doubt be taking a huge interest in as he prepares England for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This coming stretch of games could well prove to be Ward-Prowse’s coming of age, the moment he transitions from merely a tidy footballer to a genuine match-winner.