|Away to the surprise package of the Premier League, there were no surprises at all in Saints line-up. Theo Walcott returned to the starting eleven, after being unable to play against Everton in the last match and at the expense of Nathan Redmond, who dropped to the bench.
Saints would have to be very careful with the Villa midfield of the prodigiously talented Grealish and their astute signing of Barclay. JWP and Romeu would have to be at the top of their game.
Win this game and Saints would find themselves in the rarified heights of the top four, provided results elsewhere went their way. Yes, I know that this was only the seventh game of the season, but still....
James Ward-Prowse scored two goals with superb free kicks and had an assist for another. All on his twenty-sixth birthday
IBO Reporter : channonite
|Wow, what a game! Not for the faint hearted, but having wrapped the game up in normal time, Saints still managed to give away a couple of goals in time added on, to make Villa feel a bit better about themselves. Even better was looking at the Premier League table to discover that we were up to third on goal difference, if only for a couple of hours, until Spurs won their game in the evening. Heady times.
The downside were the injuries to Bednarek (Concussion, after falling vertically, head first, after a collision), Bertrand (hamstring) and potentially worst of all, Danny Ings (knee!). All will miss the next game, which is at home to Newcastle this coming Friday. Ings could well be out for several weeks.
I was a bit nervous beforehand, as Villa have developed a bit of a reputation for being both robust and hard working, together with Grealish being able to punish you in other ways, like scoring!
Saints however were in no mood to be intimidated, quite the reverse, as they immediately set about Villa like a swarm of angry bees. It was impressive to see. Within the first couple of minutes the visitors had the ball in the net, but on review by VAR, Adams was judged to have just been offside. To say it was close is an understatement. But, that's offside, you are, or you are not, there is nothing else.
I was watching on a feed without the false crowd noise and it was noticeable that you could hear Hasenhüttl telling the players when to press and when to get back. Basically he was doing it all match long. I am firmly of the opinion that the lack of crowds has helped Saints a lot, while developing the refinement to their high press game.
We had to wait a few more minutes for Saints next chance, when some great play saw Walker-Peters pass to Ward-Prowse, to Ings, to Walcott, while shot hit the bar and went over. A lovely flowing move. Villa looked powerless to stop the team in red and white.
There wasn't long to wait for the first goal. Matt Targett fouled Walker-Peters on the far outside edge of the penalty area. JWP took the resulting free kick, floating in a perfect cross to meet the flying form of Vestergaard, whose header was planted firmly past Martínez in the Villa goal. 0-1 to Saints and Villa had hardly been involved in the game thus far.
Theo Walcott was causing havoc amongst the Villa defenders, running at them time and again. On one such run he was felled outside the penalty area but directly in front of goal, just a handful of yards outside the 'D'. James Ward-Prowse territory in fact. He stepped up for the free kick and sent a pearler of a shot rocketing into the top corner. Unstoppable. 0-2.
Approaching halftime and there was only one team in this game. Once more Saints were racing down the right wing, with Walker-Peters, Armstrong and Ward-Prowse looking silky smooth. Adams way out on the right wing sent a teasing cross to a completely unmarked Walcott on the left of the penalty area. On it's way to him Cash, standing in the 'D' reached up for a blatant handball, for which he was booked. JWP stepped up for the free kick. Once again, he coolly dinked the ball up over the wall and into the net for his second goal of the day and all on his twenty-sixth birthday. 0-3. This was fantastic to watch and Villa are no mugs, they are where they are in the table on merit.
Halftime came and time to draw breath!
The second half started with Jack Stephens replacing Jan Bednarek, as the Pole had concussion from a heavy landing on his head during the first 45 minutes.
There was no way that Villa were going to be overrun again and sure enough they began to force themselves back into contention, mostly through Grealish and Barkley. It was from a Grealish cross that a header from Trézéguet drew the first save of the day from McCarthy, who stuck a foot out to deny the Villa man.
McCarthy was in action again to push away a header from Grealish, before Saints swept forward again, with the impressive Armstrong laying off to the unmarked Ings, who advanced to the edge of the penalty area and unleashed a blockbuster, which screamed past Martínez for number four of the day for the away side. 0-4 and as my notes said - 'Game Over!' Hah, don't count your chickens, etc.
Less than five minutes later Villa pulled a goal back, when Grealish hung a tempting cross in the air, which Mings headed beyond McCarthy. 1-4 and about half an hour left. Too little, too late?
Villa had Saints under the cosh now and in quick succession Vestergaard prevented what looked like a certain goal, throwing himself across to block Trézéguet's volley and then shortly after the same Villa player was denied by a fantastic reaction save from McCarthy.
All the while the time was slipping away, but it was at this point that Danny Ings went down clutching his right knee, after a collision in a crowd of players. It didn't look good and Shane Long came on to replace him for the last few minutes.
Three minutes into time added on, Diallo, who had replaced the injured Bertrand, fouled Grealish in the penalty area. No dispute, it was a penalty. Watkins stepped up and coolly slotted it home. 2-4 and not quite home and dry. Surely that would be that.
That was reckoning without the excellent Grealish, who managed to squeeze a curling shot into the bottom corner to make the final score 3-4. The three points were Saints and for a short time took to the dizzy heights to third place in the Premier League table, just two points behind leaders Liverpool.
Man of the Match
There were several standouts in this excellent side, Theo, Armstrong, Ings, Romeu, Walker-Peters, Vestergaard, but for his tireless performance on his 26th birthday and brace of goals from free kicks, the Man of the Match award goes to Saints captain James Ward-Prowse