Southampton put in an exceptional performance but had to survive a late scare as they beat Aston Villa 4-3 in a seven-goal thriller at Villa Park.
With Theo Walcott brought in to start for Saints, Nathan Redmond dropped to the bench as Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side sought for their fifth game without defeat against a Villa side who had, prior to this game, collected more points in their opening five games this season than in their final 14 games of the last campaign.
Dean Smith’s side were thankful for the Video Assistant Referee, Chris Kavanagh, who ruled out Ezri Konsa’s own goal on 3 minutes after it was deemed that Che Adams was – albeit marginally – offside.
Southampton dominated proceedings early on, with Theo Walcott causing problems for Villa ‘keeper Emiliano Martinez, but the away side’s first goal was classy.
Kyle Walker-Peters, clipped by Villa full-back Matt Targett, won the visitors a free kick in a dangerous position. James Ward-Prowse whipped the resulting free kick into a dangerous position, and Jannik Vestergaard rose above the defence to power a header in to give the Saints the lead.
A couple of injuries followed, with Jan Bednarek falling awkwardly but continuing. However, Bertrand Traore, making his full Premier League debut, had to come off after an injury despite not being challenged.
Saints’ second goal came in a familiar way. Douglas Luiz just catches Walcott who goes down and wins a free kick, and Ward-Prowse steps up from 25 yards, with the shot defeating the Villa keeper. A sweet free kick doubled the Saints’ lead.
Villa had two penalty appeals turned down – one for a trip on striker Ollie Watkins, and another on a potential handball against Danny Ings.
However, the third goal of the game went to the visitors as it was the Wessex Scene Man of the Match again who scored in pretty much the same way as he scored the Saints’ second. This time, Matty Cash – a summer signing for Villa – was booked for a handball. The free kick fell in a similar position, and once again it was a sweetly hit strike into the back of the Villa goal.
Villa came out fighting after the half-time break, challenging Alex McCarthy in the Southampton goal but the fourth goal again went to the visitors. Great build-up play saw the ball fall to Stuart Armstrong, who played a great ball through to on-fire striker Danny Ings who finished in the top right hand corner.
Southampton fans, then, would’ve been forgiven for becoming complacent – 4-0 up with half an hour to go, and you might assume the three points were in the bag.
The hosts had other plans.
Tyrone Mings met the beautiful cross of Jack Grealish after some great play which included McGinn and Barkley to pull a goal back.
Villa’s good response continued and they had a shout for a penalty after Targett was challenged by Walker-Peters, but the referee refused to give the penalty. This was followed quickly by a curled shot by Ross Barkley which nearly ended up being a fantastic finish, but for it flashing just wide.
Ryan Bertrand had to come off due to injury, as did Danny Ings – but initial worries have been quashed as his scan results were ‘favourable’.
The referee’s addition of six minutes of added time started with drama as Villa were awarded a penalty after several appeals throughout the game. Ollie Watkins stepped up to finish from 12 yards.
Jack Grealish also managed to get in on the action, with some great dribbling skills leading to a beautiful curved shot which left Villa with a few seconds to try and get a fourth and pull off a sensational comeback.
Alas, it wasn’t to be for the hosts. Southampton could breathe a sigh of relief;
“You concede the first, then you look at the time and you stop playing – this is always dangerous,” said Saints boss Ralph Hassenhuttl.
“The first two games at the start of the season were a disaster. But we showed a good reaction and now we play how we should. It’s good to see how the guys are developing. It’s a good message from the boys.”
The Saints host Newcastle on Friday as elite football has been allowed to continue during lockdown. They currently sit in 5th in the league and a win could send them top – though this is dependent on all of the top four losing their games this weekend.
FT: Aston Villa 3-4 SOUTHAMPTON (Mings 62′, Watkins 90’+3′ (pen), Grealish 90’+8′) (Vestergaard 20′, Ward-Prowse 33′, 45′, Ings 58′).
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash (booked) (El Mohamady 67′), Konsa, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Luiz, Traore (Trezeguet 29′), Barkley, Grealish, Watkins. Unused Subs: Steer, Hourihane, Nakamba, Engels, Davis.
Southampton: McCarthy, Walker-Peters, Bednarek (Stephens 45′), Vestergaard, Bertrand (Diallo 79′ (booked)), Armstrong, Romeu, Ward-Prowse (booked), Walcott, Ings (Long 85′), Adams. Unused Subs: Redmond, Djenepo, N’Lundulu, Forster.
Wessex Scene Man of the Match: James Ward-Prowse (Southampton).
Referee: Darren England.