Story of the game
Ralph Hasenhuttl handed William Smallbone a Premier League debut in midfield as James Ward-Prowse dropped to right back to replace the injured Kyle Walker-Peters. Jan Bednarek came in at centre-back in place of Jannick Vestergaard – the Dane was much maligned for his defensive output after the 2-1 loss to Burnley last week.
Dean Smith made two changes from the defeat against Tottenham Hotspur as Tyrone Mings came into the back three in place of Bjorn Engels, while Marvelous Nakamba was restored to the midfield at the expense of Danny Drinkwater.
Southampton sprung onto the front foot in the opening minutes as Smallbone had a heavily deflected long-range shot strike the post.
The dominance would pay off moments later, though, as Shane Long opened the scoring courtesy of Moussa Djenepo’s tireless running on the left-hand side. The Irishman was on hand in the six-yard box to divert the ball past an unsuspecting Pepe Reina with his thigh.
Reina was forced into action again on 18 minutes as Danny Ings worked his way through on goal but failed to apply the finish from close-range. Djenepo fired over the crossbar in the aftermath as Saints continued to search for a second goal.
Mbwana Samatta had the ball in the net just before half-time after Jack Grealish’s crafty set-up play, but the Tanzanian was some way offside to compound Aston Villa’s frustrations.
Southampton continued to seize control of the match going into the second half and came close again when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg saw his left footed volley parried away by Reina.
The introduction of Conor Hourihane injected some life into the Villains and they threatened to spoil the party at St.Mary’s, finally registering a first attempt on goal beyond the hour mark.
The game descended into a flurry of counter attacks and disorganisation in the final moments as the Villains searched for an equaliser while Southampton needed the second to kill the game off.
In the end it was the latter as Stuart Armstrong put the icing on the cake, rolling into an empty net from Che Adams’ switch after Reina had pushed up for a corner.
Man of the Match: Moussa Djenepo
Southampton’s tricky left winger has had a season plagued by injury and inconsistency but gave the St.Mary’s crowd a glimpse of the heights he can reach for the club with this performance.
His pace and skill had the hosts on the attack from the opening whistle, exploiting the gap between wing back and centre back in Villa’s back three.
Time and again he had the beating of Frederic Guilbert and demonstrated his pace and desire to reach the loose ball that he set up for Long’s opening goal.
Djenepo might well have had a goal or two for himself given the positions he took up around the penalty area, but it was his positivity and direct running going forward that set his team on the way to victory.
Takeaways from the match
At last a home win
Coming into the game with the worst home record in the Premier League, the supporter’s at St.Mary’s Stadium were at last able to travel home with the boost of a big three points.
In fact only League One cellar-dwellers Southend United had a worse home record in all of English football before kick-off, but the early goal from Long on this occasion was the perfect start.
The fans were able to get behind the team and they duly continued to carry the momentum forward, pushing Villa further back towards their own box, winning second balls and using the tenacity of Ings and Long to stretch their opponents in behind.
Just a fourth win at home for the season could be a vitally important one as Southampton have now stretched 10 points clear of the bottom three and sit in 12th place, remarkably just six points way from fifth.
A Long time coming
Without a goal until the middle of January, Southampton’s Irish no.7 now has two goals in five games as he looks to shoulder some of the burden that is heaped on Ings in front of goal.
Long’s willingness to press and chase lost causes in the final third enabled his team to push high up the pitch and dominate the space from the early goings.
Despite the unconventional nature of the finish with his thigh, the positioning and quick-thinking that make Long such a predator in front of goal were on display as he turned the ball into the net.
For all the work he put in there was a considerable lack of real chances thereafter, but another goal for Long will do him and the team the world of good as they set their sights on climbing the rungs of the Premier League table.