Southampton suffered late heartbreak against Aston Villa, as an Ollie Watkins header saw the visitors take all three points at St Mary’s.
Saints had looked on course for at least a point and also a first clean sheet at home in the league this season, before the Villa striker headed home a Douglas Luiz free-kick 13 minutes from time.
It was all the more frustrating for Nathan Jones’s side, who felt they had a James Ward-Prowse goal unjustly ruled out not long before. Added to the pain was the fact that it stopped Saints gaining the point that would have moved them off the bottom of the table.
Jones made one change from the side that had beaten Everton last weekend, as Mohamed Elyounoussi dropped to the bench and Adam Armstrong came into the team.
With three wins on the bounce coming into the match, Saints would not have been short of confidence, but it was the visitors who were the more threatening from the off.
Six minutes in, Jacob Ramsey flicked a loose ball from 30 yards out in behind the defence and raced to meet it just inside the left edge of the area. Gavin Bazunu also had his eyes on getting to the ball first and dashed out to dive for it. Ramsey did get his foot to the ball before Bazunu made it, but referee Michael Salisbury felt the Saints keeper did also just get a touch before wiping out the Villa midfielder, awarding the visitors a corner. There was a nervy wait inside St Mary’s while Salisbury waited for some VAR feedback, but there was nothing clear enough to cause him to overturn his decision.
There was another decision for the referee to make in the 13th minute, as he chose to book Lyanco for a foul on Tyrone Mings high up the pitch, with the Brazilian’s exuberance perhaps getting the better of him as he looked to close the ball down, leaving him facing a lengthy portion of the game with little margin for error.
Villa were certainly settling into the game well by this point and an impressive period of passing led to an opening shortly after, only for Álex Moreno, on his first start for the club, to skew well wide after being found just inside the area by Douglas Luiz’s lay-off.
Saints needed a bit of a spark, and they got one on 25 minutes, as Lyanco produced a gorgeous low delivery from a deep position on the right that picked out Ché Adams in behind, but, although he was able to bundle the ball past Emiliano Martinez, he was flagged for offside. Nonetheless, it was a moment that lifted the crowd and got Jones’s side on the front foot.
It wasn’t long, though, until Villa were again causing problems at the other end of the pitch.
A quick attack ended with Leon Bailey squaring for Ramsey, who had pulled into space in a central position, but his first-time shot was well parried by Bazunu, who then got a bit of deserved good fortune when Bailey made a mess of the rebound falling to him, skying high and wide.
Moments afterwards, the visitors had another penalty appeal rejected, as Ramsey went down while spinning away from Salisu in the area, but there was perhaps a bit less merit in this shout than the earlier one.
A worrying moment followed for Saints as Bazunu went down in need of treatment, but after some attention he was able to carry on.
It wasn’t the only stoppage before half-time, as one of the stranger moments in recent times at St Mary’s occurred three minutes before the interval, when a drone was spotted hovering in the sky close to the Chapel Stand. Referee Salisbury halted play and the decision was then taken to send the players back to the dressing rooms.
They returned around ten minutes later to resume, although without major incident – either on pitch or in the sky – before the half-time whistle went, save for a couple of Villa half chances.
The visitors would get a major opportunity within half a minute of the second half starting, though. Bazunu mis-hit a clearance and sent it straight to Ramsey 25 yards out. He controlled the ball and slipped a pass to his right, into the path of Bailey, but his low shot was straight at the grateful Saints keeper.
Jones opted to make a triple change when the game reached the hour mark, with his side still looking to increase their threat.
Adams, Roméo Lavia and Sam Edozie were all withdrawn, with Sékou Mara, Elyounoussi and Romain Perraud introduced.
Within seconds, Saints created their best chance of the game, as a low Ward-Prowse delivery from the right side of the area found the run of Armstrong, but his first-time strike from around the penalty area was turned away brilliantly by Martinez.
With their very next attack, Saints thought they had taken the lead.
A delivery from Kyle Walker-Peters caused a bit of a scramble in the area, with the ball dropping to Armstrong, who laid it off to Ward-Prowse on the edge of the box. He struck a first-time effort with his left foot, with the ball hitting Ezri Konza on the way through and looping over a helpless Martinez.
Saints’ joy was short-lived, though, as Salisbury was sent to the pitchside monitor to review a possible foul from Elyounoussi on Ramsey as the ball dropped in the box. He deemed the Saints midfielder had unfairly prevented his opponent from having a chance to clear – although the reaction of the home crowd when they saw the replay on the big screens told how unhappy the home side were with the decision.
It proved a turning point in the game, as Villa took advantage and gained the lead on 77 minutes.
Mara fouled Ramsey about 30 yards out, in from the right-hand side, and from the resulting free-kick, Douglas Luiz curled in a teasing delivery that found the head of Watkins, who sent his downward header past Bazunu.
Jones quickly made two further changes as Mislav Oršić and Moussa Djenepo came on for Armstrong and Duje Ćaleta-Car.
Saints pushed for the equaliser, and they went close as Mara headed over, and then closer still in the first minute of added time when Martinez somehow tipped wide a Djenepo shot that was heading towards the far top corner. It was not to be, though, as Villa claimed the victory.