Aston Villa suffered their fifth straight defeat as the heat intensified on Dean Smith ahead of the international break after a 1-0 defeat at Southampton.
Adam Armstrong scored the winner with just three minutes on the clock, arrowing a sublime left-footed strike home from the edge of the area. The striker was signed for £15m from Blackburn as a replacement for Danny Ings, who left for Villa for £30m but was missing for this encounter with injury.
Smith’s side improved their efforts after a lacklustre first half but despite posting 14 shots, they failed to seriously test Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
The Saints have now won three of their last four matches – all 1-0 – as Ralph Hasenhuttl is starting to rebuild momentum at the south coast club.
Meanwhile, Smith has lost five successive league games for the first time as Aston Villa head coach.
Southampton: McCarthy (7), Livramento (6), Walker-Peters (8), Bednarek (7), Salisu (8), Elyounoussi (7), Romeu (8), Ward-Prowse (7), S Armstrong (7), A Armstrong (8), Adams (7)
Subs: Diallo (6), Lycano (7), Bjora (7)
Aston Villa: Martinez (7), Cash (6), Tuanzebe (6), Mings (6), Targett (6), Nakamba (6), McGinn (6), Bailey (6), Buendia (6), El Ghazi (5), Watkins (7)
Subs: J.Ramsey (7), Davis (6)
Man of the match: Adam Armstrong
How Saints turned up the heat on Smith…
Armstrong celebrated Bonfire Night by igniting a rocket with Southampton’s first dangerous attack. James Ward-Prowse sent a long ball towards Che Adams and the Aston Villa defence didn’t deal with the danger with any conviction. Armstrong reacted to their indecision by latching onto the loose ball and firing an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
Villa responded as Emiliano Buendia forced a low save out of Alex McCarthy – but it was a rare piece of promise in a one-sided half.
The hosts should have doubled their lead moments later as a corner landed at the feet of the recalled Stuart Armstrong, who ballooned over from three yards to give Villa some respite.
Anwar El Ghazi also returned to the starting line-up for the visitors but shot wildly over from a decent angle as Villa at least started to get a foothold in the game.
The winger was arguably lucky to still be on the pitch at that stage having already been booked and taken a blatant dive in the penalty area not long after.
Southampton were using the ball much better and skipper James Ward-Prowse drew a sprawling save out of Martinez just after the half-hour.
Oriol Romeu then spooned a good opening over the bar just before the break as the half-time whistle came at a good time in order for Villa to regroup.
Villa looked brighter after the restart, El Ghazi stinging the palms of McCarthy before Buendia missed the target twice in quick succession.
Saints still carried a threat when pushing Villa back and Martinez had to be very alert to tip over a Che Adams header at the other end.
Villa had seven minutes of added time to try and force an equaliser but there was little pattern to their attacking play with direct balls into the box all they managed to muster. It was a tactic that Southampton managed to deal with relatively comfortably.
It leaves Smith facing a pressurised spell and Villa could occupy a spot in the bottom three by the end of the weekend if results go against them.
What the managers said…
Ralph Hasenhuttl said: “A team that comes out after half-time, puts you under pressure is always hard to play against. [There were] a lot of long and high balls so we changed to a back five. We still had good moments but only one good chance in the second half with Che Adams’ header. No matter, we have a fifth clean sheet this season which is amazing and an important three points.
“It was Adam Armstrong’s second goal and we managed to win – good for him, good for us and a striker starts scoring. He has a very good finish, left foot, right foot.
“We have lost a little bit of control, we were a bit hectic and the opponents were a bit more aggressive. We did not take the biggest risks today, tried to kick the ball longer but in some moments you have to take the right tools to win the game.”
On whether Anwar El Ghazi should have been sent off: “Absolutely. I have seen it at half-time, he was diving when booked but it is not about me to ask for red cards. We have won the game and they have problems which we had at the start of the season.
“[It is] a very solid platform after a bad start. Last season we conceded so many goals so the biggest challenge was to get more stable defensively and have shown we have turn things around now.”
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “It was a tale of two halves. Southampton controlled the midfield in the first and we improved in the second. When you go through a run of results like we’re on, you get kicked in the teeth a few times. They scored a hell of a goal.
“I said to the players at half-time that you can’t feel like the world is against you – you’ve got to go and leave everything out on the pitch. They did that second half. I can’t complain about the effort. We just need a bit of quality in the final third.
“We looked a little anxious on the ball. We didn’t get our press right so we got a message onto the lads and it took us a while to get it right. When we got it right, we looked better organised. We felt they were opening us up a little too easily. We got that right in the second half.
“I’m a scrapper. Always have been. I’m disappointed we’ve lost five on the spin but we’ve got players out injured. Five of our bench today were academy graduates. We will get players fit during the international break and we’ll be better when we come back.
“You saw what we are all about in the second half. I thought a fair score was a draw. They were the better side in the first half and we had the better of the second. We need more of that front-foot energy and intensity that we saw in the second half.”
Man of the match: Adam Amstrong
The next top-class striker to progress from the Sky Bet Championship to the Premier League was the difference maker on Friday Night Football. Jamie Vardy, Ollie Watkins, Danny Ings and Ivan Toney have all come via the same route as Armstrong and although he’s taken time to settle, his thumping strike could just be the start of a special.
Sky Sports co-commentator said: Andy Hinchcliffe said: “It was a whirlwind start from Southampton – it was a stunning goal from Armstrong. It was a tough ask to replace Ings but he’s shown with that goal, that he can play at this level.”
- Southampton have taken 10 points from their last four Premier League games (W3 D1), as many points as they won in their previous 12 in the competition (W2 D4 L6).
- This was the earliest Aston Villa have ever conceded a goal (2:15) and gone on to lose the game 0-1 in their Premier League history.
- Since the start of last season, Southampton forward Adam Armstrong is one of only two English players to score 30+ league goals in England’s top two divisions (excluding play-offs), along with Ivan Toney (33).
Southampton face rock-bottom Norwich after the international break on Saturday, November 20. Next up for Villa is a home fixture with Brighton, also on November 20.