‘I heard it too… the “aaaaahhhh”,’ Adams smiles, mimicking Hasenhuttl’s pained cry that echoed around an empty Vicarage Road. The manager was almost on the pitch in celebration when Adams’ shot squeezed past Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster and looked destined for the net.
Saints captain James Ward-Prowse was poised too, with his arms already stretched above his head. But Foster’s touch had put a spin on the ball that took it agonisingly wide.
Che Adams has admitted he is glad he chose to stay with Southampton after finding his form
‘Everyone was on their hands and knees begging for it to go in and it went past the post. You could see how much everyone was backing me then,’ Adams tells Sportsmail.
Just a week after the Watford miss, though, the 24-game wait was finally over and Adams’ strike could not have been further from the scruffy goal it is often said strikers will happily take to end a drought.
The 24-year-old Southampton striker – who can lead his team to the top of the Premier League with victory over Newcastle at St Mary’s tonight – opened his account with a stunning, first-time 40-yard chip over an out-of-position Ederson against Manchester City, displaying none of the doubt you might expect from a striker after so many games without a goal.
The 24-year-old striker broke his goal duck with a long-range stunner against Manchester City
‘I just looked up and thought “if this comes to me I’m hitting it”,’ he says. ‘No second thoughts. Literally I just thought, he’s off his line, I’m going to shoot. It was a great way to score my first goal.’
Southampton will be hoping there are plenty more – screamers or scuffed ones – now that Danny Ings, Adams’ strike partner, is out for six weeks after knee surgery this week.
Despite Adams’ struggles following his £15million move from Birmingham in 2019 he did not change, and Hasenhuttl often praised him for his exemplary attitude.
When he did get on the pitch he seemed unaffected by his drought. His technique, an underrated part of his game, never wavered. He was still making his runs and putting himself about as if he was scoring every week.
Ralph Hasenhuttl praised Adams for his attitude and the star seemed unaffected by his duck
He was a picture of calm after scoring against City but he admits the reality was different. ‘It was a massive weight off my shoulders, a huge relief,’ he says.
‘In interviews that’s how I am as a person: quite level-headed. But at home I go crazy. I watched the goal back about 40 times.’
The impact of that City goal is clear to see. Adams has scored six times in his last 14 league and cup appearances in contrast to his first 29 without a goal.
‘At the time you think it’s never going to end,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t a nice place but I got the goal against Man City and it kickstarted from there.’
Adams is now reaping the rewards for a few things, not least basic hard work.
His goal against City rejuvenated Adams, who has scored six times in his last 14 appearances
‘Lockdown probably helped me,’ Adams says. ‘I did a lot of running. Non-stop work, eating right, training, working behind closed doors. All the right things so when football finally came back I was ready and I could take my chance.
‘All the coaches noticed a difference in my fitness, the way I looked, my physique and that was the major key: lockdown.’
It is not just hard work that has helped the goals flow. Lady Luck, cruelly absent until recently, has played a part.
His season opener at Chelsea was a prime example, coming after a defensive mix-up and a ricochet off the post left him with a gaping goal. ‘Last season the goalkeeper would have saved it or the ball would have gone out,’ he says.
Lady Luck has also aided Adams, with his season-opener against Chelsea a prime example
The resilience you might expect from someone who has fought his way back from being released by Coventry, restarting his career in non-league football, has also shone through.
Adams started Southampton’s first six games last season but was then left out altogether at Tottenham in September leading to a heart-to-heart with Hasenhuttl.
He got the assurances he wanted that he wasn’t doing anything wrong but he missed games at a time when he was hoping to gain some momentum.
Adams was the subject of Leeds interest in January but is glad he remained at Saints
Adams did not start a league game again until December and in January was the subject of strong interest from Leeds United.
‘It’s easy to get up and quit but I decided to stick at it,’ he says. ‘That’s why I chose to play for this team because everyone has the right belief and is on the same path as me – so it was a great choice.’
It looks that way now, and everyone connected with Southampton will be pleased he made it.