Saints suffer Villa defeat


Southampton suffered another frustrating evening on home turf on Saturday evening, as a single first-half strike was enough to earn visiting side Aston Villa all three points at St Mary's.

Saints had the right to feel aggrieved by a number of controversial talking points, not least a contentious penalty decision, with VAR letting potential offender Matty Cash off the hook for what looked to be a definite handball.

Danny Ings had the ball in the back of the net in the fourth minute of time added on, but again VAR conspired against Saints, with Ings judged to be offside by the finest of margins - in fact, only Ings's arm was beyond the last defender. Ever so unlucky.

It means Ralph Hasenhüttl's side have collected three successive Premier League losses for the first time this season, despite turning in another bright display.

Young Academy product Alex Jankewitz was introduced for the closing stages, making his Premier League debut, but there was precious little other reward for Saints on another disappointing night on the south coast.

The manager made three changes from Tuesday night's meeting with Arsenal, bringing in Ryan Bertrand, Oriol Romeu and Nathan Redmond.

James Ward-Prowse was deployed at right-back, with Romeu partnering Ibrahima Diallo in the midfield engine room.

Improvement was indeed needed after both sides turned leading positions into defeats midweek, as well as the fact that both were locked on the same number of points, though Villa have played a game fewer.

The head-to-head stats ranked firmly in favour of the hosts, with Saints victors in their last four meetings with Villa; their best top-flight winning run against the Villans since August 1989.

Predictably, front-foot football was the order of the day from both sides, as Ollie Watkins collected the ball from Barkley in the sixth minute, shifting it onto his left foot before dragging an effort wide of goal.

The next wave of attack involved Ward-Prowse and an insatiable bit of play from Ings, who lifted it over his head and over his marker before pulling back to Stu Armstrong, with the shot blocked by the arm of Cash.

Unbelievably, Cash escaped punishment, with VAR clearing the full-back of any wrongdoing, despite all the replays appearing to show him leaning towards the ball with an outstretched arm. A slightly charitable reading of the incident from the assistant referee.

Everyone in a red shirt remained convinced that justice had not been served, and continued to pour forward in attempt of a breakthrough. Romeu tried his luck from distance, before another move down the right offered Ings a brief sight of goal, with Cash the covering defender. Clearing with his boot, on this occasion.

Saints continued to look sharp in possession, playing each pass with zip and precision. A quick free-kick routine from Bertrand was pounced upon by Armstrong in the 25th minute, as he took the shot on from an extremely tight angle and forced Martinez into action at his near post. Smart thinking.

Bertrand was then the eventual beneficiary of a powering forward run by Romeu, who perhaps should have released Ings, but opted to go wide, allowing the full-back to join the attack before shooting a yard wide.

A dominant display from the hosts, but no goal to show for it midway through the half. Credit given to a resilient Villa backline - and Cash's arm. Romeu ballooned a shot over the bar in the 35th minute after shrewd play from Ings shortly after, before McCarthy was needed to preserve parity.

Watkins was found by Jack Grealish in the box and turned astutely to work a yard of space before firing low at goal, but McCarthy rebuffed effectively and allowed Bednarek to mop up the afters.

Saints continued to force the issue, but were dealt a sucker punch in the 41st minute. For the first time in the game, Grealish snuck behind Ward-Prowse before lofting a pass towards the penalty spot, where the onrushing Barkley was given enough space to nod past a helpless McCarthy. He arrived late, but was afforded a fairly simple finish; a disappointing end to an otherwise productive half.

The home side pushed from the first kick of the restart. Redmond's tentative effort on 50 minutes was well blocked by Tyrone Mings, but an even better opportunity presented itself a minute later. Barkley fouled Romeu, 20 yards from goal, firmly in Ward-Prowse territory.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the captain's best, but Villa know all too well what Ward-Prowse is capable of from that distance. The wall did its job, on that particular occasion.

It appeared as if Saints were down on their luck midway through the second period, in more ways than one, losing both Diallo and Walcott to injury in quick succession. Moussa Djenepo and Ché Adams were introduced in place of the two stricken Saints, who continued to trail by a single goal.

Adams made a near-instant impact in the 69th minute, latching onto a cutting pass from Ings, but wasn't able to beat Martinez. The striker tried to fire across the Argentinian but it finished too centrally, giving the stopper a better chance of saving. A brighter passage of play followed from Saints, who weren't short of attempts, but had only registered one shot on target, as Armstrong fired wide of the mark in the 74th minute.

Unbelievable defiance kept Saints at bay six minutes from time, with Bednarek rising highest to Ward-Prowse's in-swinger. Martinez saved from point blank range, before Adams and Stephens were both denied on the follow-up, with a flurry of chances coming and going for the hosts. Luck simply wasn't on side.

The game finished with another questionable decision, as VAR yet again fell in favour of Villa. Ings had his equaliser chalked off in the dying stages, having poked in from Bertrand's parried shot, but to no avail. The lines were drawn on the VAR monitor, and it was ruled that Ings had crossed it.

Victory sees Dean Smith's side climb to eighth, with a game in hand on many of those above them, while Saints remain 11th.