Southampton see off Villa for third win in four games

Pressure mounts on Villa boss Dean Smith as his side plunges towards the relegation zone

Southampton 1 Aston Villa 0

There were a couple of times in this game when a fidgeting Dean Smith took a hurried glance at his watch and, after a fifth successive Premier League defeat, the Aston Villa hierarchy must decide whether to stick or twist. Smith had spoken of a determination within the camp to put things right but the signs look increasingly ominous after another jarring display. Aston Villa had grand plans of building on last season’s mid-table finish with a drive towards the European places but, although unlikely, a painful defeat at Southampton means they could yet end the weekend in the relegation zone.

Smith had stressed the importance of Villa going back to basics if they were to break from their slump, namely the need to rediscover a defensive steel after conceding 12 goals in their previous four games, but with little more than a couple of minutes on the clock, the air still cooling from the pre-match pyrotechnics, that message had also gone up in flames. James Ward-Prowse, whooshed the ball forward from halfway, beating a half-hearted Emiliano Buendía to it, and when it bounced free on the edge of the box Adam Armstrong smacked in a sweet first-time shot on the half-volley.

It was a nightmarish start for Villa and things surely would have got a lot worse had the referee, Andy Madley, not allowed Anwar El Ghazi, one of three changes, off the hook. El Ghazi had already been booked for clipping the again superb Southampton teenager, Tino Livramento, when the Villa winger brainlessly pulled the full-back to the ground with 25 minutes played. A few minutes before the interval he appeared to take a dive in the box after skipping past Ward-Prowse before presumably thinking better of it and jolting back to his feet. Inevitably, it was also El Ghazi who wasted Villa’s best first-half opening, driving over after cutting inside off the left flank. The biggest surprise was that El Ghazi returned for the second half.


Southampton should have added to their advantage, with Mohamed Elyounoussi and Stuart Armstrong, handed his first league start of the season in the absence of Nathan Redmond, who tested positive for coronavirus, particularly lively. The right-footed Kyle Walker-Peters also excelled as a marauding left-back and, at times, an auxiliary forward such was the way he toyed with Matty Cash, the Villa full-back who this week received a Poland call-up. Ward-Prowse forced Emiliano Martínez into a fine save with a thumping shot before Oriol Romeu sent a shot over from the edge of the box.

Villa created a flurry of chances early in the second half, leading a concerned Ralph Hasenhüttl to introduce a third centre-back in Lyanco for his league debut 10 minutes after the break. El Ghazi was again heavily involved and Buendía also curled wide. But it was the Villa goalkeeper Martínez who produced another superb stop to keep his side in the game, preventing Che Adams from finding the corner with a flicked header after connecting with a Ward-Prowse free-kick. Martínez, as he did to deny the Southampton captain in the first half, flew to his right and clawed the ball away with a strong left hand.

Smith went for broke with his substitutions, with youngsters Jacob Ramsey, Cameron Archer and Keinan Davis arriving from the bench. Hasenhüttl, meanwhile, attempted to tighten Southampton’s grip and, while there were some hairy moments, they chalked up a third win in four games to maintain the feel-good factor. What Villa would do for a dab of that. - Guardian