Adam Armstrong’s first goal since the opening day of the season earned Southampton back-to-back wins in the Premier League, as Aston Villa were dispatched at St Mary’s.
With St Mary’s drenched with a sense of occasion for the Friday night encounter, Saints raced out of the blocks and held an early lead courtesy of a Armstrong's sublime strike.
A dominant opening 45 minutes couldn’t be crowned with an improved scoreline, as Anwar El Ghazi and Emi Buendía both went close for a resurgent Villa after the break.
However, that was as close as the visitors came to an equaliser, as the home side signed off for the international break by moving four games unbeaten.
Ralph Hasenhüttl was forced into one change from the side that secured all three points at Watford last weekend, with Stuart Armstrong returning to the starting eleven in place of Nathan Redmond, who dropped from the squad after testing positive for Covid-19.
Having scored in his last two outings prior to picking up an ankle injury, Armando Broja had to settle for a spot on the bench after Ché Adams and Adam Armstrong impressed in the Albanian’s absence.
Many inside St Mary’s would’ve been anticipating the return of Danny Ings after his summer move to Villa, but the striker missed out with an ongoing illness and was soon surpassed as the topic of conversation.
Replacing Ings as Saints’ number nine in the summer, Armstrong ended his 10-game wait for a second goal in sensational style with just three minutes gone, reaffirming why he was brought to the club after a prolific spell at Blackburn.
When James Ward-Prowse’s looping ball over the top looked like little more than a clearance, Adams’s reluctance to give up on a lost cause saw the Scotsman defy the odds to lay off the ball to his strike partner on the edge of the box, with the diminutive Armstrong firing a thunderous first-time effort past a rooted Emi Martínez.
With nearby fireworks providing an echoey backdrop, the explosive start from the hosts could’ve gotten even better before the 10-minute mark.
A trademark Ward-Prowse delivery from a corner could only be flicked toward his own back post by Ollie Watkins, where an unmarked Stuart Armstrong could only blast over when unopposed from a tight angle.
The onslaught continued, as Tyrone Mings had to be well-placed inside his own box to clear a searching Moi Elyounoussi cross, whilst at the other end, speculative long-range attempts provided the only attacking outlet for the visitors.
Villa had been well below par, but the intensity of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side played a large part in that, with a second goal all that was missing from an accomplished first half.
It almost came on 34 minutes, when Martínez had to use every inch of his 6ft 5in frame to push Ward-Prowse’s venomous drive from 25 yards around the post.
The Saints captain was putting in another trademark display, dictating the play in possession and recurringly winning the ball back as though Villa had no right to have it.
It was the England international who set the final chance of the half in motion, playing the ball out wide to Tino Livramento, with the ball eventually falling to Oriol Romeu who came close to grazing the crossbar with his 20-yard attempt.
The 15-minute break would’ve been warmly welcomed by the Midlands outfit, as they re-emerged with a far greater threat straight from the restart.
Engineering two early opportunities in the second half, both fell to El Ghazi as the Dutchman saw a deflected header drop just wide before forcing McCarthy to push an attempt from the edge of the box over the bar.
Buendía was next to squander a brace of chances, as the Argentine’s speculative efforts went close to calling the home keeper into action.
Villa, almost unrecognisable to the side devoid of creativity in the first half, sparked a response from Hasenhüttl with the hour-mark closing in.
A back three was deployed by the Austrian, with Lyanco introduced for a home Premier League debut in place of Stuart Armstrong.
Having the desired effect in stalling Villa’s bright spell, it was the hosts who enjoyed the game’s next noticeable opportunity.
From another pinpoint Ward-Prowse delivery – this time from a deep free-kick – Adams’s looping header looked destined to nestle in the back of the net, only for Martínez to claw the ball over the bar with an acrobatic save.
As the game ticked into the final 15 minutes, Ibrahima Diallo replaced Elyounoussi in a bid to stave off any second wave of Villa pressure.
In fact, the loudest noise in the closing stages was a standing ovation for goal scorer Armstrong, who was replaced by Broja having run himself into the ground.
The striker’s efforts proved not to be in vain, as Saints coolly saw out an inflated seven minutes of additional time to move up to 12th in the table ahead of the weekend’s action.