Southampton remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League after Ollie Watkins’ second-half header earned Aston Villa a narrow win at St Mary’s.
Watkins nodded Douglas Luiz’s outswinging free-kick into the bottom corner with 13 minutes remaining as Villa claimed their fifth victory in seven league games under new manager Unai Emery.
The visitors dominated possession but were fortunate not to fall behind midway through the first half when Che Adams’ close-range effort was ruled out for offside.
Saints had the ball in the Villa net again shortly after the hour mark, but James Ward-Prowse’s deflected strike was chalked off after VAR spotted a foul by Mohamed Elyounoussi in the build-up.
Watkins’ fifth goal of the season ultimately proved decisive, as Saints’ three-match winning run in all competitions came to an abrupt end.
“I’m so happy with his work and how he is helping the team,” Emery said of the former Brentford forward. “If he is scoring I think he can be feeling better and he can take confidence.
“It is not just his responsibility alone to score, it is for other players as well. But I’m so happy with him today.”
Saturday’s game at St Mary’s was suspended five minutes before half-time when a drone was seen hovering above the Southampton penalty area.
Both teams were taken off the pitch by referee Michael Salisbury before re-emerging 10 minutes later once police had given the all-clear.
Villa victorious after double let-off
Only Premier League leaders Arsenal have collected as many points as Villa since Emery replaced Steven Gerrard in the Villa Park hot seat last October.
The visitors were crisp in possession at St Mary’s but struggled to properly trouble Southampton early on, Emiliano Buendia and full debutant Alex Moreno both firing well wide of Gavin Bazunu’s goal inside 20 minutes.
They survived a let-off when Adams’ first-half goal was disallowed but spurned an excellent opportunity to go in front when Ramsey shot straight at Bazunu from inside the area, with Leon Bailey sending the follow-up over the crossbar.
Bazunu almost gifted Villa the opener in the early stages of the second half when his miscued clearance allowed Ramsey to tee up Bailey, but the Saints goalkeeper atoned for his error by smothering the Jamaica international’s low shot.
Villa had another narrow escape when Salisbury disallowed Ward-Prowse’s effort after Elyounoussi clipped Ramsey’s ankle, but Watkins’ late header secured a third straight away league win under their new boss.
They had Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to thank for preserving their narrow lead late on, the 30-year-old parrying Moussa Djenepo’s curling shot past the far post before gathering the resulting corner.
“I think we can do better,” Emery told BBC Match of the Day afterwards. “We are winning some matches but there’s more in my mind I want to do.
“A lot of teams are trying to sign players to improve and stay in the Premier League. We have only signed one player [Moreno] at the moment.
“We are, above all, giving our [current] players the opportunity to show they’ve improved with us, then we can add some players to improve the squad and add better balance to each position.”
Saints rue luck after disallowed goals
Before the game, manager Nathan Jones said escaping the relegation zone was the “first psychological barrier” Southampton needed to overcome as they bid to maintain their top-flight status this season.
It is a hurdle they have yet to clear, but they left the pitch ruing their luck after being denied a fourth successive victory in all competitions by two tight refereeing decisions.
Adams’ disallowed effort was by far their best opportunity of a first half in which they managed just one regular attempt – a Lyanco header after just five minutes.
Jones’ half-time switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 appeared to give his players renewed energy, Martinez denying Adam Armstrong before Ward-Prowse scored what he thought was his fifth league goal since the World Cup – only for it to be ruled out for Elyounoussi’s challenge on Ramsey.
Asked by BBC Match of the Day about the decision to disallow Ward-Prowse’s effort, Jones said: “It was a goal that was overturned softly. I’m just really, really frustrated because I feel we deserved something from the game.
“We showed real naivety on the set play [for Watkins’ goal]. The only way we are conceding is either [through] a counter-attack or set play.
“If we keep those out then we’ve got a good side.”
Djenepo’s fierce strike almost salvaged a point, but Jones must now find a way to lift his players for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at home to high-flying Newcastle.
- 4LyancoBooked at 13mins
- 6Caleta-CarSubstituted forDjenepoat 84′minutes
- 45LaviaSubstituted forElyounoussiat 61′minutes
- 23EdozieSubstituted forPerraudat 62′minutes
- 9A ArmstrongSubstituted forOrsicat 84′minutes
- 10AdamsSubstituted forMaraat 61′minutes
- 1E Martínez
- 15Moreno LoperaBooked at 82mins
- 41J Ramsey
- 6Douglas LuizBooked at 64minsSubstituted forDendonckerat 88′minutes
- 10BuendíaSubstituted forCoutinhoat 69′minutes
- 31BaileySubstituted forCashat 81′minutes
- Michael Salisbury
Match ends, Southampton 0, Aston Villa 1.
Second Half ends, Southampton 0, Aston Villa 1.
Offside, Southampton. Kyle Walker-Peters tries a through ball, but Sékou Mara is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Mohammed Salisu (Southampton) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by James Ward-Prowse with a cross.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Emiliano Martínez.
Attempt saved. Moussa Djenepo (Southampton) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Mohamed Elyounoussi.
Attempt missed. Sékou Mara (Southampton) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Moussa Djenepo with a cross.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Leander Dendoncker replaces Douglas Luiz.
Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Sékou Mara (Southampton).
Offside, Southampton. Kyle Walker-Peters tries a through ball, but Mislav Orsic is caught offside.
Substitution, Southampton. Moussa Djenepo replaces Duje Caleta-Car.
Substitution, Southampton. Mislav Orsic replaces Adam Armstrong.
Attempt missed. Mohammed Salisu (Southampton) header from the centre of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by James Ward-Prowse with a cross following a set piece situation.
Álex Moreno (Aston Villa) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Álex Moreno (Aston Villa).
Kyle Walker-Peters (Southampton) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Matty Cash replaces Leon Bailey.
Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Sékou Mara (Southampton).
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