Aston Villa 1 Southampton 1
For long periods it looked like the form book would be turned on its head on a bitterly cold evening but Nathaniel Clyne, Southampton's man of the moment, enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a well-taken goal to earn Ronald Koeman's side a point.
It was the least Southampton deserved on an evening when the apathy at Aston Villa plumbed new depths. Only 25,311 turned up - Villa’s lowest crowd in the Premier League for 15 years - and those that stayed at home, or went Christmas shopping, had no cause to regret their decision. It was a desperately poor game.
Villa took the lead in the 29th minute following an error of judgment from Fraser Forster. Gabriel Agbonlahor, with what was only Villa’s sixth goal of the season, punished the Southampton goalkeeper’s mistake. The visiting side kept huffing and puffing and finally got their reward when Clyne, who impressed on England duty last week, timed his run into the area perfectly before sweeping a first-time right-foot shot into the far corner following a fine cutback from Ryan Bertrand.
There had been a strange feel to the evening from the outset. Villa, who were wearing black armbands as a mark of respect to Sir William Dugdale, their former chairman who died this month at the age of 92, paraded former FA Cup and European Cup winners before kick-off to mark the club’s 140th anniversary. Yet once the game got under way it was eerily quiet.
A minute’s applause in the 21st minute, in memory of the 21 people killed in the Birmingham pub bombings 40 years ago, broke the silence.
On the pitch Southampton looked to be in total control, with Morgan Schneiderlin spraying the ball around in the centre of the pitch and Villa restricted to the odd counter-attack, but the visitors fell behind in farcical circumstances just before the half-hour mark. It was the first time that Southampton have conceded in 439 minutes of Premier League football and it will make for painful viewing if Forster decides to watch the goal back.
Ciaran Clark’s hasty clearance encouraged Agbonlahor to stretch his legs and run in behind the Southampton defence. Forster, in a moment of panic, sprinted out of his penalty area and tried to get to the ball first. The England goalkeeper was never going to make it. Agbonlahor, who could not believe his luck, got to the ball first and toe-poked it past Forster before slotting home.
If there was a criticism of Southampton in the first half it was that for all their possession - 65% during that period - Ronald Koeman's side never did enough to expose a patched up Villa defence. Their best moment arrived courtesy of Sadio Mané, who cut inside Alan Hutton before curling a right-foot shot that would have found the bottom corner but for Brad Guzan producing a fine one-handed save.
The game slipped into a lull and desperately needed a spark. Southampton were still probing without looking like breaking down a Villa side content to sit deep and cling on to their lead. They needed a bit of imagination, some craft and guile. Instead there was frustration as Victor Wanyama clattered into Tom Cleverley and earned a booking in the process. José Fonte slid a low centre across the six-yard box that nobody was able to touch home and Dusan Tadic struck a wide free-kick that Guzan punched clear as Southampton continued to press.
At the other end Andreas Weimann had an excellent chance to double Villa’s lead following another breakaway but his shot, following Agbonlahor’s lay-off, sailed over. Then came Bertrand’s measured cutback and Clyne’s fine finish.