05/12/2015: Saints 1-1 Aston Villa
Saints were frustratingly held to a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa at St Mary's. The home side could have been out of sight during the first 20 minutes with all the chances they had, but somehow went into half-time a goal down. Saints had trouble breaking their opponents down for much of the second-half, but did eventually manage to salvage something from the game.
Saints came out to attack from the off, playing purposefully and at a high tempo. Villa in contrast looked edgy at the back and possessed little quality further forward. Saints created a number of good chances early on. Dusan Tadic came very close on 2, hitting the ball just over the bar from Sadio Mane's cutback. Tadic then turned provider for Pelle, who also shot over. Wanyama nodded wide from Tadic on 7, before Mane volleyed the ball over.
Villa did manage to take the sting out of the game ever so slightly around the 15 minute mark, but made little leeway going forward. They tried to play possession football, but didn't have the guile to threaten Saints outside their own half. The home side were still pressing. Jose Fonte couldn't quite get his close range shot past a large block of Villa players. Mane's 20th minute header was just too high.
Saints lost their rhythm going forward ever so slightly during the latter part of the first-half. The team started to make silly individual errors, with Villa unable to take advantage. Rudy Gestede sliced at Jordan Veretout's low cross. The half looked to be petering out until Villa took a late lead out of nowhere. Fonte was blocked at the corner, which went all the way to the far post to Joleon Lescott, who hooked the ball in.
Villa defended desperately throughout the second-half. They weren't especially well organised, but got bodies back and wasted as much time as possible. Saints didn't always move the ball quick enough. Mane had an early shot deflected wide. Villa then managed to keep Saints at bay until the 60th minute when Steven Davis had a shot blocked by Alan Hutton. The home side attempted to get the ball out wide and stretch the Villa defence, but the delivery was mostly poor.
Ronald Koeman made a double substitution on 63, with Oriol Romeu and Juanmi coming on for Victor Wanyama and Dusan Tadic. Both players made an immediate impact. Juanmi chased down every ball and put Villa's centre backs under pressure. Romeu gave Saints more control in midfield. Cedric crossed the ball for Juanmi on 66, but the ball was just too high for the Spaniard to properly direct it. The same player tested Brad Guzan a couple of minutes later.
Saints continued to plug away until 72 when the equaliser finally arrived. The goal was very similar to Villa's opener. James Ward-Prowse's corner went all the way to the back post, with Romeu getting away from Carlos Sanchez before knocking the ball in. The momentum remained with Saints during the last 15 minutes, but the team was often left frustrated, with a number of moves breaking down just outside the penalty area. Virgil van Dijk headed over from a corner before Shane Long smashed the ball into the side-netting deep into stoppage time.
A bad result considering how awful Villa were, but a reasonable performance. Saints could have easily been about 4-0 up at half-time. We were unable to maintain that attacking fluency, but early on the front three of Tadic, Mane and Pelle linked up very well indeed. Koeman's changes made all the difference, with both Spanish players stepping up to a level previous unseen. There were some positives, but Saints will need to improve considerably if they want to pick up results in this tough Christmas run-in.
Stekelenburg: 5. Didn't have a difficult save to make
Cedric: 7. Much better today. Sound defensively and got beyond the Villa backline to deliver some good crosses
Fonte: 6. Great to have him back. Used all his leadership skills and added calmness to the rest of the defence. A bit unfortunate for the Villa goal
Van Dijk: 6. Not tested too much, but did make a few brilliantly timed tackles
Bertrand: 6. Had it fairly easy at the back, but offered decent enough support at the other end
Wanyama: 5. Below his best once again. Distribution disappointing and unable to exert his usual influence on the midfield
Ward-Prowse: 6. Put in a few great balls into the box, and a reasonable midfield showing
Mane: 6. Made some bright runs in the first-half, but was really off his game after the break. Not many of the things he did in the second-half came off
Davis: 7. Linked play really well, particularly in the second-half
Tadic: 6. Some good link-up play in the early going, but decision making let him down later in the game. Some poor delivery
Pelle: 6. Lively during the opening quarter, but kept quiet for the rest of the game
Juanmi: 7. Best outing in a Saints shirt. Really positive, added a lot of energy
Romeu: 7. Got the all-important goal and gave Saints some much needed composure in the middle of the park
Long: Involved in a couple of late chances
Saints: Romeu (73)
Aston Villa: Lescott (44)
Attendance: 29,645 (1,978 Aston Villa fans)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Saints line-up: Stekelenburg, Cedric, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse, Mane, S Davis, Tadic, Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Martina, Caulker, Clasie
Aston Villa line-up: Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Lescott, Bacuna, Veretout, Sanchez, Gueye, Sinclair, Ayew, Gestede
Subs not used: Bunn, Ilori, Traore,