Sunday 26 January 2020

No case for the defence as Villa sent to drop zone

Aston Villa 1 Southampton 3

Southampton's Danny Ings celebrates scoring their third goal with teammates. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters
Southampton's Danny Ings celebrates scoring their third goal with teammates. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters

Ben Fisher

Aston Villa splashed out almost £150m in the summer, half of which was apportioned to strengthening the defence but, on this evidence, they can feel short-changed after Southampton thrice exposed a concerning soft centre.

Villa, who have lost seven of their past nine league matches, displayed a frailty that must have had assistant coach John Terry tearing his hair out. Jack Grealish struck a wondrous half-volley late on but it was just a consolation as Danny Ings continued his scoring streak, finding the net either side of Jack Stephens's first-half header to earn a victory that hoists Southampton out of the relegation zone at Villa's expense.

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This was the start of a pivotal week for Villa, who host Norwich on St Stephen's Day before a trip to Watford. They got off on a bad note here - John McGinn hobbled off inside four minutes with a suspected ankle injury after making a thunderous block on Cédric Soares - and Dean Smith's side never recovered.

Until Grealish's strike, they struggled to muster more than a whiff of the Southampton goal, with Wesley guilty of stroking painfully wide from an early Anwar El Ghazi cross. It was only a matter of time before Southampton seized the initiative.

When Shane Long skipped on to a ball over the top by James Ward-Prowse, Villa were in trouble. Long beat Bjorn Engels for pace, with the Villa defender stuck in slow motion as Long raced away before striking at Tom Heaton, who palmed his shot into the path of Ings, who could not miss. Soon after Kortney Hause was stuck in the mud and Southampton sensed another chance to spring forward. Villa got off the hook but it did not take long before Ralph Hasenhüttl's side doubled their advantage, with Stephens glancing in unchallenged after comfortably beating his marker El Ghazi to a sweet Ward-Prowse corner. Long almost caused more pain before the interval but Hause intervened, helping the ball into Heaton's grasp.

Villa's entire back five, including Matt Targett, the former Southampton defender, were recruited following promotion last season and here they were pulled from pillar to post by Ings and co.

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters

By the time Southampton added a third six minutes after half-time, Villa were at risk of a hiding. Ings's second goal was gift-wrapped by the Villa substitute Marvelous Nakamba, who inadvertently nudged Nathan Redmond's cross straight into the path of the striker.

Ings could not believe his luck, swivelling in the box before arrowing a shot beyond Heaton. On the touchline Jonathan Kodjia, the Villa striker limbering up for action, covered his head with his hands.

The same reaction would have been fitting for Grealish's peach 15 minutes from time, too. The Villa captain rattled home after Saints cleared corner to the edge of the box but it was too little, too late.

Observer

Southampton's Danny Ings scores their third goal. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters
Southampton's Danny Ings scores their third goal. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters

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