Southampton 0 – 1 Aston Villa
With three points spurned in midweek, Dean Smith would be looking for a reaction from his team, against an outfit that had put Villa to the sword earlier this season. The 3-4 score line suggested that the previous encounter with Southampton was a lot closer than it was, but a last ten-minute rally merely made things seem competitive. At that point, Villa were in the midst of a wobble, and now they are most certainly enduring a new wobble. One win in the last five league games has seen the Villans slip into mid-table, despite some reasonable performances in tough fixtures.
Smith named an unchanged side to that which conceded three against Burnley in midweek. The only notable difference to the 20-man squad was the introduction of new signing, Morgan Sanson. The Frenchman would be wearing the number 25. For the hosts, Theo Walcott started ahead of ex-Birmingham City man Che Adams. James Ward-Prowse, the architect of Villa’s downfall earlier this term, started and long-time Villa nemesis, Shane Long, would be available to Ralf Hasenhuttl from the bench.
The Villans had two good spells, to bookend the first half. Ollie Watkins early dragged shot looked like the best Villa could muster, as Southampton began to dominate possession of the ball. Nail-biting moments ensued as Danny Ings undressed Douglas Luiz, before playing the ball inside for Stuart Armstrong, who’s shot pinged off the arm of Matty Cash. VAR hasn’t been on Villa’s side much this season, but Mike Dean was kind enough to spare the Villa faithful any more frustration, by not giving a penalty. Villa then rode their luck further, with a Ryan Bertrand cross flashing across goal, and a continued spell of Saints pressure. Dean Smith’s men sparked into life, with a better period of play to end the half. Matt Targett looped a pass over the top, Jack Grealish whipped in a cross, and Ross Barkley stretched to put his header into the left side of the Southampton goal.
Villa had completed a first-half smash and grab, but would they be able to hold on to the lead?
Villa continued to dig in in the second-half, and had to ride their luck on occasion. There was space in behind for Villa to exploit, as Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley were able to break. Emi Martinez pulled off a sensational save off Che Adams, as Danny Ings played him through on goal. The defensive work didn’t stop there, as all of the back four were called into action on numerous occasions. A Southampton corner forced Martinez into another fantastic save, and as the rebound fell to the opposition twice, McGinn and Cash got in the way to prevent a certain goal. The controversy of the first-half carried over to the second, as a long range shot was saved by the Villa ‘keeper, only to fall for Danny Ings, who put away his chance. VAR smiled upon Villa once again, as Ings sleeve was apparently a mm offside.
Another battling win for Villa, similar to away at Wolves earlier this season. With two decisions going the way of Dean Smith’s men, perhaps their VA-Karma has balanced out somewhat. If there was a rating of the VAR, Mike Dean, tonight he’d get a nine. He’d also probably be a contender for Villa’s man of the match.
Emiliano Martinez – 9 MOTM
Villa fans may have heard this be said a few times but here it is again, Emi Martinez, what a signing! The towering shot stopper was called into action more than fans would have liked, but my word he was up to the task. He had the presence of mind to not over commit when Che Adams was through and he had excellent reflexes to stop Jan Bednarek’s header. There were a couple of instances in which his playing out from the back was a little casual, and the Saints players got a little close for comfort. However, this was an exemplary display of goalkeeping by the Villa number 26.
Matty Cash – 8.5
Once again there were times in which Matty Cash was left horrifically exposed by Bertrand Traore, but the flying right-back dealt with threats brilliantly. On a couple of occasions when Southampton tried to play passes down the left, Cash darted in to intercept and spring the Villa counter-attack. He must’ve given Emi Martinez some tips on goalkeeping, based on how well he kept out Stuart Armstrong’s shot.
Ezri Konsa – 8.5
One particularly impressive flying block by Ezri Konsa, that ended up with Danny Ings being offside. Despite this, it’s that commitment and positional awareness that makes Konsa so valuable. If someone else strays out of position, Konsa will cover to the best of his ability. It surely won’t be long until he is talked about for an England call-up.
Tyrone Mings – 8.5
Minus the Cruyff turn in the first half (that was sure to give some Villa fans heart palpitations) this was a very composed and strong defensive performance from Tyrone Mings. The defence needed plenty of organising as Southampton piled on the pressure for large spells, and it was Mings who was barking out the orders. He usually has a knack of blocking shots, and this game was no exception, with two blocks to add to his team-leading five clearances.
Matt Targett – 8.5
The new and improved Matt Targett continued to impress on the Villa left. Defensively the full-back has become tough in the tackle, his nine tackles was the highest of anyone on the pitch. On top of this on the front foot his passing is often pinpoint accurate, and his vision has greatly improved. The looped pass into Jack Grealish before the goal, was one of many positive passes that got Villa moving up the pitch.
Douglas Luiz – 7
Douglas Luiz had some early struggles up against the experienced Oriol Romeu in the centre of midfield. But the Brazilian did grow in confidence as the game went on. He nipped in to win the ball back, particularly in the second half, to help Villa break. His block from Nathan Redmond’s edge of the box strike was crucial to Villa’s cause.
John McGinn – 7.5
There were a smattering of loose passes dotted throughout John McGinn’s performance. Otherwise, after putting himself about, and not getting a huge amount of joy in the first half, he started to win the ball and fouls as the game went on. His long passing has been impressive in recent games, all of the long balls the Scotsman tried were accurate.
Bertrand Traore – 6.5
While the occasional element of Bertrand Traore’s play was pleasing, he didn’t quite put it all together. Also, his tracking back was often half-hearted, or he had to be pointed in the right direction by a teammate. When the going gets tough and the team needs to dig in, the introduction of Trezeguet over Traore may have given Villa that little bit more defensive stability.
Ross Barkley – 7.5
Right place, right time and most importantly right finish for Ross Barkley. The attacking midfielder’s late run into the box was rewarded as he headed in what would be the winning goal. There were flashbacks to the Southampton game earlier this season, as Barkley lost the ball and gave away a free-kick just outside the box.
Jack Grealish © – 8.5
Jack Grealish was unsurprisingly the heart of the Villa attack. Super Jack looked to exploit the space afforded to him by Southampton’s makeshift right-backs, and pull back crosses for onrushing Villa players. This paid off when he placed the ball onto the head of Ross Barkley, and thanks to the dynamism of Grealish somehow found themselves ahead. Late on when the team was trying to close out the game, the skipper won numerous fouls up the pitch, releasing pressure and any late nerves.
Ollie Watkins – 8
Most of Villa’s few chances were shots from Ollie Watkins. His ability to work some space on the ball in the box, and get a shot away is very impressive. He helped Villa beat the Southampton press by providing an out ball for the Villa defence and ‘keeper, his runs in behind caused trouble for Bednarek and Stephens. His ability in the air is often underestimated, but Watkins won four aerial duels, showing he can deal with high balls too.
Off the Bench
Marvelous Nakamba – n/a
Zimbabwean midfielder Marvelous Nakamba didn’t touch the ball in the minute or so that he was on the pitch.
Dean Smith – 7.5
It was easy to tell that Villa weren’t going to give up on another lead in the same week. Though there was an element of luck involved, the whole team helped to dig in and carve out a win, in a game that seemed to be getting away from them in the first-half. The biggest chance Smith’s men got, they took, which is important in a game where you don’t have a lot of the ball. His faith in the XI he puts out on the field is clear, as he doesn’t want to change the team that got him ahead.
It’s West Ham at Villa Park next. The Hammers are in a great run of form, and find themselves in the top six. While beating a Southampton side that are struggling to score is good, beating a team at the top of their game would demonstrate that Villa have got over their slight slump.