Ralph Hasenhuttl called Nathan Tella the “biggest talent” at Southampton’s disposal after the striker scored his first senior goal in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over relegated Fulham.
Tella took less than two minutes to double Southampton’s lead after coming on as a second-half substitute as they registered back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since December.
The 21-year-old, who has made only six Saints starts after overcoming a serious knee injury as a teenager, also set up the home side’s third goal with a classy backheel to find Theo Walcott.
“He’s the biggest talent we have at the moment. He had a bad injury and when I see him performing like he does at the moment, I enjoy watching it,” Southampton boss Hasenhuttl told BBC Sport.
“Sometimes he sprints more in 20 minutes than others in 90 minutes. This is an important season for him and we have tried to give him game time.”
Tella’s face was a picture of joy after he steered home Kyle Walker-Peters’ pinpoint low ball across the face of the penalty area to put the game beyond Fulham.
Hasenhuttl added: “It’s a special moment for a young striker. He’s got a smile on his face always, and this is what I really liked from him because he enjoys working for the team, he enjoys playing with us.”
Che Adams had punished poor set-piece defending to sweep Saints ahead with an instinctive half-volley when the Cottagers allowed James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick to bounce in the six-yard box.
Tella’s strike to make it 2-0 was not the only milestone for a young player on show as Fulham teenager Fabio Carvalho drilled in off the crossbar to score on his first Premier League start.
But the 18-year-old’s effort, Fulham’s first goal from open play in more than seven and a half hours, could not prevent Scott Parker’s side slipping to a seventh defeat in eight league games.
Southampton, who move up a place to 13th, sealed victory in the closing stages as Adams and Tella combined to set up Walcott, whose shot looped home via a slight deflection.
Adams on course for Euros
Ward-Prowse and Adams combined nicely for Southampton’s opener and it is not inconceivable they could be lining up against each other at Wembley on 18 June when England and Scotland meet in the Euro 2020 group stages.
Adams has capped a season of top-flight improvement with a first Scotland call-up after switching allegiance from England and netted his first international goal in March’s World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands.
His intuitive finish, crashing an unstoppable strike past Alphonse Areola when Ward-Prowse’s wide free-kick dropped at his feet, bore the hallmark of a forward high in confidence, his nine goals this term more than doubling the four he managed in 2019-20, his first Premier League season.
But Adams’ build-up play impressed too, as he set up a first-half chance for Takumi Minamino before playing a role in Walcott’s late third, which took a nick off Cottagers defender Joe Bryan on its way in.
Tella’s contributions – a cool finish to open his professional account and a skilful assist for Walcott – were also easy on the eye after he replaced a subdued Danny Ings, and the attacking depth Saints showed here will encourage a fanbase worried about the England striker’s future, with his contract expiring next summer.
Hasenhuttl added: “It’s not a coincidence that we’ve scored 10 goals in the last four home games. The subs today had a brilliant impact. This is what you need sometimes in a tight game.”
More Saints sorrow for Fulham
Fulham have won only one of their 31 league visits to Southampton – back in 1935 – and it always seemed a 22nd defeat in that sorry sequence was on the way once Adams steered Saints ahead.
The Cottagers have only rescued two points from losing positions this season and only really showed any signs of rallying once they fell two behind at St Mary’s.
A last-ditch Jack Stephens tackle thwarted Ivan Cavaleiro and Bryan whistled a shot just wide from 25 yards before Carvalho fired home Bobby Decordova-Reid’s through ball via the crossbar.
It was Fulham’s first goal from open play since Aleksandar Mitrovic’s opener in the 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa at the beginning of April, with only a Josh Maja penalty at Arsenal to show in the four games since.
That they were still in the game owed plenty to Areola, who thwarted a Ward-Prowse free-kick and a Nathan Redmond strike, as well as saving from Tella late on, although Carvalho’s contribution, neat and tidy in possession throughout, will offer hope as the Cottagers look to next season in the Championship.
“Fabio showed his quality today – he’s young and he’s come into this team because we’ve been in search of goals,” Cottagers boss Scott Parker told BBC Sport.
“He’s scored the goal and put in a very good performance. He was a massive bright spark today.”
Saints skipper a set-piece standard-setter – the stats
- Southampton have netted three or more goals in consecutive Premier League games for the first time since December 2018 (vs Arsenal and Huddersfield).
- Fulham have only registered one win in 31 league visits to Southampton (D8 L22) and are winless in 10 top-flight visits to the Saints (D4 L6).
- All seven of James Ward-Prowse’s Premier League assists this season have come from set-piece situations, with the Saints captain providing more such assists than any other player.
- Fabio Carvalho (18 years 258 days) became Fulham’s third youngest goalscorer in the Premier League behind only Ryan Sessegnon (18y 155d) and Collins John (18y 176d).
- Southampton’s Nathan Tella, who scored his first senior goal in his 21st appearance, found the net just 98 seconds after coming on as a substitute.
Southampton host Leeds in the Premier League on Tuesday (18:00 BST), while Fulham visit second-placed Manchester United at the same time that evening.
- 19MinaminoSubstituted forWalcottat 76′minutes
- 17ArmstrongSubstituted forDialloat 78′minutes
- 9IngsSubstituted forTellaat 58′minutes
- 5AndersenBooked at 26mins
- 34AinaSubstituted forBryanat 62′minutes
- 14De Cordova-Reid
- 25OnomahSubstituted forMajaat 76′minutes
- 29Zambo AnguissaSubstituted forLookmanat 63′minutes
- Craig Pawson
Match ends, Southampton 3, Fulham 1.
Second Half ends, Southampton 3, Fulham 1.
Foul by Harrison Reed (Fulham).
Kyle Walker-Peters (Southampton) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Nathan Tella (Southampton).
Josh Maja (Fulham) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Ademola Lookman (Fulham).
Kyle Walker-Peters (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Fabio Carvalho (Fulham) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Harrison Reed with a headed pass.
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Jack Stephens.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Alphonse Areola.
Attempt saved. Nathan Tella (Southampton) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Che Adams.
Goal! Southampton 3, Fulham 1. Theo Walcott (Southampton) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Nathan Tella.
Hand ball by Bobby De Cordova-Reid (Fulham).
Josh Maja (Fulham) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Mohammed Salisu (Southampton).
Substitution, Southampton. Ibrahima Diallo replaces Stuart Armstrong.
Substitution, Southampton. Theo Walcott replaces Takumi Minamino.
Substitution, Fulham. Josh Maja replaces Josh Onomah.
Goal! Southampton 2, Fulham 1. Fabio Carvalho (Fulham) right footed shot from the right side of the box to the high centre of the goal. Assisted by Bobby De Cordova-Reid.