IBO Reporter : channonite
|There was a time, earlier in the soon, when Saints looked a decent bet for one of the European places, but injuries to key players seems to have blunted the teams attack and at the same time we appear to be running out of full backs. Finances also appear to have meant that signing another full back, even on loan, is a non-starter.
In this match, the surprise for me was Ralph choosing to play James Ward-Prowse at right back and put Diallo in mid-field, together with the returning Romeu. Presumably this was to counter the threat of Grealish down Saints' right side.
The contentious bits of this game though were to do with VAR and the match officials. For the recored, we had Lee Mason as referee, with Mike Dean in charge of VAR.
We started off with one of the most contentious decisions, when. JWP played a perfectly weighed ball from the touchline to Ings on the edge of the penalty area. The Saints No.9 flicked the ball with his heel over the head of the Villa No.6, Douglas Luiz and collected it on the other side of him and found Armstrong unmarked in front of goal. Armstrong shot and it appeared to come off Cash, before going behind. The Saints players appealed as one to Mr Mason for handball. The initial replays seemed to confirm that Cash had indeed handles the ball for a clear penalty. The BT pundits were convinced that it was and indeed the more you watched it, the more it looked like a stonewall penalty. The VAR review by Mike Dean seemed to be going on for an eternity and everybody was astounded when the verdict was given that it was no handball by Cash and no penalty. Much, much later it appeared that the shot might have struck the Villa player a glancing blow on the chest first, therefore, even though Cash was extending his arm towards the ball and his arm had struck the ball, it was not a handball. Suffice to say, the arguments raged on for some time, at half-time and after the match. Not a good start.
I was looking to see what position Grealish was taking up and he was hovering on the touchline and when Villa were in position he was going right down to the byline, behind JWP. This almost paid off for them when a quick throw-in found Grealish in space behind Saints defence. Grealish played the ball back to Matt Targett, who crossed for Watkins whose low shot was saved by McCarthy and cleared by Bednarek. We had been warned.
Saints went on to have plenty of possession and played some nice football, while creating some decent chances, without ever really causing Martínez any real problems. Then, just before half-time, Villa struck. Unfortunately Saints hadn't learned from the earlier near miss and Targett lobbed a ball over the head of Ward-Prowse for the waiting Grealish. The Villa man crossed right into the middle of the Saints area, just in time to meet the head of the on-rushing Barkley. 0-1 just like that. A superb goal, but against the run of play, it was difficult to take.
So, half time and plenty for Ralph to think about.
The second half started and Saints didn't look comfortable. Things got worse just before the 60 minute mark, when Diallo was injured and was replaced by Djenepo, who went wide, with Armstrong tucking in to replace the injured player. Little more than five minutes later, Saints injury problems grew, with Theo Walcott pulling up with what appeared to be hamstring injury. He went off to be replaced by Ché Adams.
Adams had an immediate effect on the game and almost scored after being put through by Danny Ings, but he was denied by a combination of Martinez and Cash, which ended with both Villa players injured on the ground. Both were able to continue though.
Next Saints chance came from a JWP corner, with his shot being headed by a defender high in the air, dropping right in front of Martinez who promptly fell over, claiming Romeu had pushed him. The Spaniard had the ball in the net, but Lee Mason gave the free kick to Villa. A soft decision IMHO.
Saints were pressing hard now and in the next attack Redmond struck a lovely shot, which just took a slight deflection over the bar for a corner. Close. From the resulting corner it was hard to follow what happened, with the ball pinging around the penalty area, with Bednarek having a header parried by Martinez and both Adams and Stephens having shots cleared. Villa were clinging on.
Into the last minute and Romeu went off, to be replaced by the young Swiss player, Jankewitz. Villa were having trouble in clearing their lines now. Every time they cleared, back the ball came again.
Into injury time and Ward-Prowse played forward To Redmond, to Bertrand, to Jankewitz, who played a perfect pass through to Adams, who lost his balance and fell. Bertrand running in shot and it drew an instinctive save from Martinez, but he could only push the ball up in the air. When it came down, there was Danny Ings running in who bundled it into the net, but the linesman's flag was up. It went to VAR and we were then treated to the sight of lines being drawn on the screen. It was very, very close. The general consensus was that if Danny had not been wearing a black armband, in memory of past President and former Assistant Manager, John Mortimore, who had passed away during the week, then it would have been a goal. A bit tongue in cheek, but it was really that close.
To say I was gutted after that match was an understatement. I have been a staunch supporter of VAR, but that really pushed my support over the edge. Mike Dean and Lee Mason, who had a stinker of a match, have been struck off my Christmas Card list.
And we have Manchester United next at Old Trafford. The classic resistible force meeting a moveable object...
Man of the Match
I haven't mentioned him much in the report, but I was really impressed with the return of Oriol Romeu from several matches out injured. He just picked up where he left off and was superb