Aston Villa vs Southampton:-Three points is followed by two weeks for one very relieved manager to sit a little more comfortably, with Steven Gerrard able to breathe somewhat during the international break after his Aston Villa side ground out a 1-0 win at home to Southampton on Friday night.
A defeat to the Saints 10 months ago had heralded the end of Dean Smith’s Villa reign, but for Gerrard this victory – decided by Jacob Ramsey’s first-half strike – will be a platform to build upon from October until the World Cup break.
It also lifts Villa clear of the relegation zone, for now, and sees them join Southampton on seven points, seven games into the Premier League season.
Villa Park, frequented by the Villa-supporting new Prince of Wales over the years, shared the honour with Nottingham Forest’s City Ground in becoming the first two stadiums to sing ‘God Save the King’ ahead of a Premier League match, which followed Steven Gerrard and Ralph Hasenhüttl leading their teams out for a moving minute’s silence under dimmed lights.
It all made for a surreal start to the night, but the rousing rendition was a reminder that English football’s top tier was back – after a much-debated weekend off – to join in with the sporting tributes across the country.
From that point on – bar a 70th-minute applause to recognise the Queen’s 70-year reign – it was back to business for both sides. Villa were hoping to create daylight between themselves and the relegation zone, while Southampton were three points and five places above, and had as high as sixth in their sights.
Villa began on the front foot, pressing high to keep the crowd on their side, but chances were a rarity with Leon Bailey seeing plenty of the ball early on but struggling to make anything of it.
He was not alone, with Villa wasteful in the final third, and though Southampton initially offered little threat themselves, they had two half-opportunities when James Ward-Prowse saw his shot blocked after Ezri Konsa made a vital interception.
Phillipe Coutinho then carved out an opportunity of his own making, with some sharp skill turning Ward-Prowse inside out before the Brazilian – whose relationship with Villa fans continues to blow hot and cold – fired over from 20 yards out.
Then came the opening goal, by all accounts a scrappy one indicative of the error-strewn 40 minutes that had preceded it. Coutinho’s cross found Ollie Watkins, whose header was saved by Gavin Bazunu, but only enough for the ball to loop in the air and bounce back into play off the bar before it fell to Jacob Ramsey to break the deadlock.
Buoyed by that goal, Villa almost had a second before half-time, and after Bailey fired just wide, substitute Douglas Luiz was up to his usual trick, seeing his in-swinging corner tipped over the bar by Bazunu. A third goal of the season from this set piece would have to wait, although that did not stop Luiz from trying again from the subsequent corner as well.
After the break, Ramsey came close to scoring his second, but in truth there was little to get either set of supporters out of their seats until they did so for the applause in 70th minute, which led to play being temporarily halted.
From then, Villa’s mission was to stand firm, and that they did after Stuart Armstrong headed just wide in injury time, with Tyrone Mings – snubbed by Gareth Southgate in the England manager’s latest squad – instrumental in leading, albeit without the armband, the defensive cause.