Southampton fell to a second successive 1-0 defeat on the road, as Jacob Ramsey’s first-half goal proved enough to settle a subdued Premier League encounter at Villa Park.
There was a hint of controversy about the winner, with Ramsey clearly offside in the build-up, but when Gavin Bazunu tipped an Ollie Watkins header against the bar and Mohammed Salisu’s clearance landed kindly at the feet of the Villa man, Ramsey was deemed to have scored legally following a VAR review.
As an attacking force, Saints struggled to create any significant chances to score, as an uninspiring spectacle petered out in favour of the hosts.
With Premier League football returning for the first time since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, both sets of players, joined by their managers, gathered in the centre circle for a minute’s silence and emotional rendition of the national anthem before kick-off.
Ralph Hasenhüttl made one change to his side, restoring Moussa Djenepo to the starting line-up after the winger signed a new three-year deal in the week, as Joe Aribo dropped to the bench.
That meant using Mohamed Elyounoussi in a slightly deeper midfield role, as Djenepo played wide on the right, with Adam Armstrong on the opposite flank and Ché Adams spearheading the attack.
Saints were the first to threaten, as Djenepo galloped down the wing and delivered a teasing cross that was turned behind for a corner, which was headed wide by Elyounoussi at the near post.
The visitors’ confidence was underlined by some delightful footwork on the halfway line from Kyle Walker-Peters, who brilliantly worked his way out of a cul-de-sac and accelerated towards the penalty area, where he was halted by Lucas Digne’s perfectly-timed sliding tackle.
Despite the encouraging start, the first half an hour will not live long in the memory, before Philippe Coutinho set about bringing Villa Park to its feet with a moment of magic when he spun away from James Ward-Prowse and tried his luck with a rising 25-yard drive that just sailed over.
Villa’s game plan seemed fairly straightforward: get the ball wide and cross it, with Armel Bella-Kotchap heading out a flurry of balls until one evaded him and was met by Coutinho, who forced a low save from Bazunu at his near post.
From the resulting corner, however, Bazunu’s flying stop to deny Watkins sent the ball looping into the air and dropping on to the crossbar, before Salisu’s header fell kindly for Ramsey to rattle in the rebound via the same lick of paint.
A VAR review followed, with Ramsey offside from the initial cross, but Salisu’s minor touch reset the phase of play, ensuring the goal would stand.
Suddenly Villa had their tails up, as Leon Bailey’s deflected shot veered inches wide, prompting the home fans to cry for a shot from Douglas Luiz – that’s right, a shot, as Luiz has scored twice directly from corners already this season, and nearly did so again but for the back-pedalling Bazunu, who helped it behind for another.
Hasenhüttl was quick to act at half time. Romain Perraud, who had been struggling with a knock, joined Ibrahima Diallo in being replaced, as Joe Aribo and Juan Larios – the latter making his debut in senior football – were introduced.
Larios gave the travelling fans some optimism with an impressive change of pace as he surged into Villa territory, but the move broke down as Saints struggled to sustain attacks.
In the 70th minute, to mark the Queen’s 70-year reign, Villa Park rose as one to applaud. On the pitch, the game continued to drift, as Stuart Armstrong and Sékou Mara were summoned in a bid to rescue a result, as Adams and Adam Armstrong made way.
By the 79th minute, Saints had a completely new-look left side, as Samuel Edozie joined Larios – the pair have a combined age of 37.
Winger Edozie was a bright spark last time out at Wolves, but on this occasion struggled to make an impact in his limited time on the pitch.
Ward-Prowse went into the book late on for clattering John McGinn on the halfway line in an act that summed up the frustration of his team, as Saints were unable to make their mark in the Midlands.
Twice Bazunu came forward for late set-pieces as Saints pushed to snatch a point, but Stuart Armstrong's glancing header floated just wide, as Villa did enough to hold on.