24/11/2014: Aston Villa 1-1 Saints
Saints were held to a draw at Villa Park following an uncharacteristically flat display. The game was very low on quality and excitement, and for a long time it looked as if Ronald Koeman's men would be travelling back without a point.
Koeman adjusted his team shape ever so slightly in the absence of Steven Davis. Shane Long started just behind Graziano Pelle, with Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic out wide. Saints began the game reasonably well. Morgan Schneiderlin hooked the ball wide from a corner on 6 minutes. Victor Wanyama then scooped the ball over following a sustained spell of pressure. Mane sliced a shot wide on 16, following some great build up play down the left between him, Ryan Bertrand and Pelle.
Aston Villa were occasionally a bit sloppy in the middle of the park, but defended their penalty area well. The home side looked to utilise the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor on the counter. It was through this method they struck first. Fraser Forster looked to be favourite to reach a long Villa clearance, only to hesitate at the last minute. This allowed Agbonlahor to nip in and slide the ball into an unguarded net.
Villa were tentative beforehand, but were even more cautious after the goal. They were very well organised at the back and really stifled Saints in the attacking third. The visitors struggled to regain their fluency, until the 37th minute when Brad Guzan brilliantly saved from Mane. A few minutes later the keeper made a routine save from a Jose Fonte header.
Koeman attempted to switch things up slightly in the second half, by moving Tadic into the middle and Long out wide. Saints threw men forward, but to no avail. Villa were incredibly disciplined and worked hard to prevent the visitors playing their way through, which although effective, didn't make for a great spectacle. The visitors weren't anywhere near as inventive as they usually are, and even resorted to speculative long balls.
Villa had the first major chance of the half with a blocked shot. Saints didn't properly ask questions of their opponents until the final 20 minutes. Jose Fonte flashed the ball across goal on 73. Tadic tested the impressive Guzan from a free-kick. At the other end Tom Cleverley shot well over from a counter. Saints were improving slightly and were rewarded with a goal on 81 minutes. Bertrand and Tadic combined well on the left, before the former cut the ball low across goal for Nathaniel Clyne to blast into the corner of the net. Both sides took it in turns to attack during the final 10 minutes, without creating anything worthwhile.
Saints were passable during the first half hour, but didn't respond particularly well to going a goal down. It's never easy to break teams down when they stick so many players back, but Saints did just about manage it eventually. Villa never really looked like scoring before or after that Forster mistake. Saints may well have gone on to win comfortably were it not for that mishap, with Villa slightly more open with the score at 0-0. As hard as Paul Lambert's side worked, they were still lacking in quality and Saints really should have done more to test them. The lack of attacking alternatives on the bench didn't help either. A fairly satisfying point all things considered.
Forster: 5. At fault for the Villa goal. Didn't have too many saves to make. Made one good claim towards the end of the game
Clyne: 7. Another accomplished display sealed with a good goal
Fonte: 7. Spent a lot more time in the attacking half than usual. Steady at the back too
Alderweireld: 7. Made a few well timed challenges and usually well positioned
Bertrand: 7. Given plenty of space to push on and attack the left flank. Delivery hit and miss, but did provide the all-important pass for Clyne's goal
Schneiderlin: 7. A good range of passing, including one particularly skilful back-heel, plus the usual intelligent movement
Wanyama: 6. Steady unspectacular performance in the middle
Mane: 7. The most effective of Saints' attacking players. Prior to the equaliser the few chances that did fall Saints' way usually involved the Senegalese
Tadic: 6. Played well in spells, with some good direct running, but final ball lacking for the most part
Long: 6. Decision making on the ball could have been better, but did manage to rescue a few lost causes with some eager pressing
Pelle: 5. Didn't see too much of the ball
Mayuka: Barely had a touch after coming on
Cork: Sent on just prior to stoppage time
Aston Villa - Agbonlahor (29)
Saints - Clyne (81)
Referee: Phil Dowd
Aston Villa: Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Clark, Cissokho, Cleverley, Westwood, Sanchez (Bent 74), N'Zogbia (Richardson 64), Weimann, Agbonlahor
Subs not used: Given, Lowton, Bacuna, Cole, Grealish
Saints: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand, Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Mane (Mayuka 79), Tadic, Long (Cork 89), Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Gardos, Yoshida, Targett, Reed