Impressive Aston Villa swat aside Southampton with ease

Small changes, undoubtedly large impact. Steven Gerrard’s early tenure momentum had dissipated. Doubts were just starting to become audible. So, I have made a tweak; a diamond midfield, plus two front-men. The fruit has been bountiful already, back-to-back victories and a pair of clean sheets, the latest a convincing swatting aside from Southampton. A side that had, until this point, been operating with quiet excellence.

Ollie Watkins opened the scoring, before Douglas Luiz applied the finishing touch to a delicious second just before the interval. Phillipe Coutinho and Danny Ings then ended the contest in the space of two second-half minutes. A triptych in 600 seconds, and a leap and punch of the air for Gerrard. After a three month wait, Villa Park heads home happy.

The match was won in midfield. With Luiz keeping it ticking at the base, John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey full of running and Coutinho providing Brazilian shimmy abundance – watching him really does warm the heart – the hosts looked threatening every time they had possession.

And that quartet squeezed the space, their opposite numbers suffocated. That forced Southampton’s crown jewel deeper and deeper still, James Ward-Prowse treading on his center backs’ toes to collect possession. Not their day.

Rarely these days in the top-flight do both sides deploy an out-and-out front pair. Southampton’s duo Che Adams and Armando Broja have won recent plaudits but they were outshone. The focus was, naturally, on Ings, lining up against Southampton for the first time since his summer switch. There have been teething issues, and the visiting fans took delight when he wasted an early chance to counter, slipping and twisting his ankle in the process. Besides that, they had little to cheer.

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Ings was involved in the opener, feeding Watkins on the edge of the box. A sharp turn later, Jack Stephens was left marking space, the finish beyond Forster’s helping hand. For Ralph Hasenhüttl familiarity has bred content in recent weeks, and he has favored a settled league XI. Hardly surprising given 10 previous matches had brought a 19-point haul, and a solitary defeat. But Stephens was required to make a first league start since December due to injury to the imperious Mohammed Salisu. Absence keenly felt.

Gerrard too was forced to reshuffle, Ezri Konza and Lucas Digne testing positive for Covid. That saw Ashley Young and ex-Saint graduate Calum Chambers included, the latter providing a glorious outside of the foot pass to find Moutinho for the second. The touch was perfect, the cross rolled across the face of the area. On a plate for Luiz.

Coutinho’s celebratory dance was one of relief having missed a quickfire pair of chances a few minutes prior. He should have added a third in first-half stoppage time but did end any hopes of a comeback seven minutes after the break, Forster nutmegged via a deflection. Then Ings turned in. Over and done.

Southampton’s moments were few and floating. Their supporters proudly displayed the yellow and blue scarves their club provided as part of a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. But those same neck warmers being waved owing to a goal never felt likely. Stuart Armstrong – perhaps the unlikeliest benefactor of Ings’ departure – fashioned a chance to equalize with some deft footwork but he curled just wide. Che Adams then stepped onto the roof of the net before the break, but Emi Martinez’s gloves were not warmed until his side was four to the good. The best one can say about the visitors is that it was very un-Southampton like.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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