Southampton moved a step closer to Premier League survival with a comfortable victory that leaves Aston Villa firmly in relegation trouble.
Saints dominated the first half and took an early lead through Shane Long, who bundled in his third goal of the season from Moussa Djenepo’s left-wing cross.
Villa improved slightly after the break but the hosts went closest to extending their advantage as substitute Che Adams was denied his first Saints strike by a late goal-line block.
Then as Villa threw caution to the wind in stoppage time, with goalkeeper Pepe Reina going up for a corner, Saints broke upfield and Stuart Armstrong raced on to a diagonal ball by Adams to slide the ball into an empty net and seal the victory.
That ended a run of three games without a win for Southampton, moving them 10 points clear of the relegation zone.
But Villa, who managed just one shot on target, remain a point above the bottom three after a third straight defeat. The teams below them all have a game in hand.
Southampton won 3-1 in the reverse fixture just before Christmas, a victory that sparked a run of 13 points from a possible 15 to steer them clear of the bottom three.
But they have continued to lose at home, with last week’s 2-1 defeat by Burnley their eighth home reverse of the season.
Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has spoken about the pressure of playing at home, challenging his players to turn St Mary’s back into a fortress, and they started like a side with the Austrian’s words still ringing in their ears.
Recalled winger Djenepo was a constant threat on the left, despite having his head bandaged midway through the first half, and Will Smallbone also impressed after coming in for his Premier League debut – a day after turning 20.
The midfielder almost had a goal inside eight minutes, his deflected strike hitting the outside of the post as the hosts pinned Villa into their own half in the opening stages.
Djenepo then got to the byeline and his awkward-looking centre with the outside of his right foot found Long, who was able to convert at the near post for his third goal in six games.
Danny Ings and Djenepo were denied by Reina but Saints remained on top after the break, with captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg forcing a low save from the veteran Spanish keeper.
And while Villa virtually handed the hosts the goal that sealed victory at the death, it was no less than Southampton deserved.
The two sides were level on points when they last met in December, with Villa outside the relegation zone on goal difference and Southampton inside it – and how manager Dean Smith must wish his side could string together a run like the south coast side went on subsequently.
Since losing to Saints, Villa has won three league games and each was followed by defeat in their next league game.
They were perhaps unlucky to concede a last-gasp winner at home to Tottenham last week and on Saturday would have hoped to see players fighting for places in next Sunday’s EFL Cup final against holders Manchester City.
They also had Tyrone Mings return after missing the Spurs defeat with tonsillitis – but the England defender had to repel Southampton almost single-handedly early on.
Captain Jack Grealish was well-shackled by Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse, playing at right-back, and new signing Mbwana Samatta received precious little service throughout.
Trezeguet, a first-half substitute for the injured Anwar El Ghazi, was their biggest threat, providing some energy down the right-wing and their only shot on target midway through the second half.
But they failed to build on the momentum he provided and needed a goal-line block by Kortney Hause to prevent Southampton sealing victory sooner than they did.
So instead of gaining a morale boost before next week’s finale, Villa fans are fearing a repeat of last month’s 6-1 drubbing by City – followed by the growing prospect of an immediate return to the Championship.
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Source – News365coza