Saints clinch home win over Villa

By SFC Media time Sat 22 Feb Saints v Aston Villa
Photo by Matt Watson | Shane Long & Danny Ings
Sat 22 Feb 3PM
Premier League
Aston Villa
Long [8'] Armstrong [90+5']
Armstrong (90+6')
yellow card
Konsa Ngoyo (45+4') Reina (72') Guilbert (90') Grealish (90+6')
Referee: Craig Pawson | Venue: St Mary's Stadium | Attendance: 31,478

An early goal from Shane Long and a late one from Stuart Armstrong were enough to secure Southampton’s first league double under Ralph Hasenhüttl.

Long got across the near post to net a scruffy opener from Moussa Djenepo’s improvised cross in the eighth minute at St Mary’s.

The goal - his third in six games - continued the Irishman’s happy habit of scoring against Aston Villa; this was the ninth time he has achieved the feat in his career, more than he has scored against any other club.

Thereafter, Saints were good value for their fourth home league victory of the season, as Pepe Reina made smart saves to deny Danny Ings, Djenepo and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, while Alex McCarthy was seldom tested at the other end.

Just as Reina sensed the chance to be Villa's hero when he sent himself forward for a corner deep into stoppage time, Stuart Armstrong rolled the ball into the unguarded net Reina had vacated to wrap up the points.

Hasenhüttl made three changes to his side, who were looking to bounce back from a 2-1 defeat last time out at St Mary’s against Burnley.

Those changes included a Premier League debut for Will Smallbone, whose only previous first-team appearance yielded a goal in the FA Cup at the expense of Championship side Huddersfield.

Smallbone filled the void in central midfield vacated by James Ward-Prowse, who would have to fill in at right-back in the absence of the injured Kyle Walker-Peters.

Elsewhere, Sofiane Boufal was only deemed fit enough for the bench, as Djenepo came in, while Jan Bednarek returned in place of Jannik Vestergaard at the heart of the defence.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Will Smallbone of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Aston Villa at St Mary's Stadium on February 22, 2020 in Southampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Academy graduate Will Smallbone in action on his Premier League debut

Smallbone’s big moment nearly arrived as early as the sixth minute. Not shy in shooting from distance, the youngster, who only celebrated his 20th birthday yesterday, tried his luck from 25 yards with a low drive that was deflected on to the post by England international Tyrone Mings.

It was a bright start from Saints. Armstrong was soon forcing a first save from veteran keeper Pepe Reina, before Long did what he often does against Aston Villa, and found the back of the net.

The goal owed much to the persistence of Djenepo down the left, who dug out an orthodox cross with the outside of his right boot just before the ball ran out of play. 

Whether Long expected it only he knows, but the Irishman’s burst to the near post was rewarded when the ball bounced off him and into the net.

Villa arrived at St Mary’s with the worst defensive record in the top flight, conceding 50 goals, and Saints were exposing that weakness at will.

Ings would have backed himself to move on to 19 for the season when he wriggled beyond the last defender and went eye to eye with Reina, but the keeper stood tall and shut down the angles as one former Liverpool man denied another.

Then Long cut the ball back for Djenepo to fire over, before the winger raced through on goal, in similar fashion to Ings before him, only for Reina to come up with the goods again.

Djenepo would find himself in the wars later in the half, having to play on with a distinctive white bandage wrapped around his head following a stray arm from Marvelous Nakamba under a high ball.

20200222 Southampton v Aston Villa
A patched-up Moussa Djenepo soldiers on after taking a blow to the head

A lot of Villa’s attacking threat comes through inspirational captain Jack Grealish, but Saints had done a fine job of containing him. 

Seven minutes before the interval, however, Grealish showcased his ability with a brilliantly-disguised pass to release Mbwana Samatta, who finished coolly only to be stopped in his tracks by the offside flag.

Meanwhile, Djenepo’s headgear was not slowing him down, as a burst of pace took him beyond Ezri Konsa.

That Djenepo did not go down infuriated Villa when Konsa was booked for the challenge, but credit must go to the Malian for his honesty in staying on his feet. 

Saints came out in the second half determined to find the second goal that might just kill off Villa.

Jack Stephens, a scorer in the 3-1 win at Villa Park, came close when he got his toe to Ryan Bertrand’s dangerous free-kick, but the ball sailed just over.

Then Armstrong was first to react when a square pass deflected into his path, charging right through the heart of the defence and rounding Reina, only for the angle to defeat him, as his shot rolled into the side-netting.

Next it was a counter-attack that threatened to unlock the visitors, as Højbjerg released Long down the right touchline and galloped upfield to offer support. 

When the goalscorer picked him out, the skipper connected sweetly on the volley from 20 yards with his left foot, but the 37-year-old Reina was down smartly to keep Saints at bay once again.

As the clock ticked down and still only Long’s goal separated the teams, Villa grew in optimism.

With 17 minutes left, Hasenhüttl switched his strike force; Long and Ings off, Ché Adams and Michael Obafemi on.

At this stage, a clean sheet was Saints' number one priority, but ex-Birmingham front man Adams twice came close to opening his Saints account against his former rivals; drilling one low shot across goal, before pouncing on a loose ball and looking certain to score, only to be thwarted by a last-ditch block from Kortney Hause.

But it was Adams who crucially provided Armstrong with the chance to finally put the game to bed, as his fine diagonal pass was converted by the Scot, who somehow summoned the energy to run the length of the pitch to score with virtually the last kick of the game.

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Head to Head Stats

Aston Villa
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Alex McCarthy (GK)
James Ward-Prowse
Jack Stephens
Ryan Bertrand
Jan Bednarek
Moussa Djenepo
Stuart Armstrong yellow card goal
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (C)
William Smallbone
replace Oriol Romeu (80′)
Danny Ings
replace Michael Obafemi (73′)
Shane Long goal
replace Che Adams (73′)
Che Adams
Yan Valery
Angus Gunn
Sofiane Boufal
Jannik Vestergaard
Oriol Romeu
Michael Obafemi

Aston Villa

Pepe Reina (GK) yellow card
Tyrone Mings
Kortney Hause
Ezri Konsa Ngoyo yellow card
replace Conor Hourihane (59′)
Frederic Guilbert yellow card
Marvelous Nakamba
replace Borja Bastón (81′)
Matt Targett
Douglas Luiz
Anwar El Ghazi
replace Trézéguet (28′)
Mbwana Samatta
Jack Grealish (C) yellow card
Borja Bastón
Conor Hourihane
Daniel Drinkwater
Ørjan Nyland
Ahmed El Mohamady
Björn Engels
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