IBO Reporter : Spot51
|Sky were screening this and the studio pundits were Redknapp Jr and Paul Merson. Merse seems a changed man these days and surprisingly expressed his liking for JWP and Adam Armstrong. He predicted the latter “would score” tonight.
In their interviews, Dean Smith said his squad were determined to end their bad run. Ralph expressed his pleasure at the improvement in Saints’ defending but stressed that both sides needed the points tonight.
We got glimpses of the marching band and lightshow before the teams arrived. Sky had Seb Hutchinson and Andy Hinchcliffe on the gantry. Saints were back in black shorts (I prefer the red we wore at Watford) and Villa’s strip was all dark blue. As “The Last Post” was played for Remembrance, the cameras panned in on the poppy covered corner flags. We even saw Nike’s new colourful winter ball.
Villa kicked off towards the Chapel, but it was Saints who were first to attack. Adam lost possession near the half-way line but, with JWP closing in, continued his run up-field. JWP did get to the loose ball first, ballooning it high into the sky and dropping towards the edge of Villa’s box. Cash tried to get under it, but was under pressure from Ché. Neither got a head on the ball, but it bounced off the defender’s bum into the path of the sprinting Adam Armstrong. He met the ball, about 20 yards out, and hit the sweetest half-volley which flew past Martinez. Three minutes gone, and Saints were already 1-0 up.
Villa must have planned to keep us quiet for 20 minutes and build a hold in the match, but those plans went straight out the door. They were visibly shaken and Saints really should have capitalised while they were wobbling.
Our next chance fell to Moi who went high. Villa’s first attack saw Salisu fouling Watkins. Bednarek headed the free kick away where it was collected by McGinn who shot over. The next to take aim for Villa was Buendia but his shot was caught by McCarthy.
On 8m KWP won a corner. JWP’s cross came off a head at the near post and dropped to Stu in acres of space. He should have taken a touch, but his rushed shot flew high into the Northam. El Ghazi was carded for a trip on Tino as the game began to be taking place almost entirely in the Villa half. On 13m Moi won a corner off Cask. Adams got on the end of the cross, but headed over. Moi’s next ball into the box was headed clear by Mings.
Saints were dominating possession now, but clear-cut chances were few. Indeed the next shot on target, on 20m, came from Bailey but McCarthy got everything behind it. Saints went straight up the other end, winning a string of corners which Villa did well to defend. Salisu went closest but Martinez grabbed his header.
On 25m El Ghazi brought down Tino again. Saints players surrounded the Ref demanding a 2nd yellow – bad move! Refs hate that so he refused to send the Dutchman off. Let him decide FFS! From this point on El Ghazi became Villa’s most influential player, going past Tino before blasting a wild shot over the bar - with better placed team mates expecting a cross.
Saints were still dominating but only won corners. JWP found Martinez’s gloves with 2 successive crosses. But the Skipper came closest to extending our lead when Stu rolled the ball inside to him – he crashed a shot just inside the post but Martinez dived full-length to turn it past the post. Good save!
On 37m Salisu played a blind back pass in the general direction of no-one. McCarthy had to sprint from his area to hack the ball clear with Villa players closing in. Saints were still on top but first Mings, then Tuanzebe, got to crosses into their box to keep us out. A lovely move down our right saw Adam find Alfa, whose drive just cleared the bar. A Villa break saw Adams bring down Targett, but McC dealt with the free kick. After +1m the ref blew for half time. 1-0 but it really should have been more.
Over half-time “Mystic Merse” was ribbed for calling Armstrong to score before they explored not one, but two occasions when El Ghazi should have been sent off. As well as the 2nd foul I mentioned, he was also guilty of a blatant dive in our box as JWP cleared the ball. The ref obviously didn’t think there was a foul and just played on. Would have been better if he’d called for a penalty so VAR could have got him sent off!
No changes by either side for the 2nd half which Saints kicked off. Whatever Dean Smith had said or done during the interval had an immediate effect. Villa were a different prospect now. They were 20 yards further forward and pressing for their lives. It now looked like a 4-4-2 with Bailey through the middle but Watkins continued to drift out wide and was rarely in the box when Villa looked to cross. As expected, the fortunate El Ghazi was their most influential player but, as we are starting to see, Saints are made of sterner stuff these days and kept things tight at the back.
Villa won some corners and it was good to see Ché Adams back heading the ball away. Villa’s best chance came when El Ghazi shot from distance, but McCarthy was perfectly positioned to help it over the bar. Adams was again on hand to bring the ball out.
Buendia was then presented with 2 good shooting chances, but neither required McCarthy to make a save. Targett took Villa’s next corner with Villa winning the 2nd ball. Buendia set up Mings, but Jan blocked his shot. Another corner, and again Villa sent the ball back in, but this time Tuanzebe headed over to release the pressure.
Saints then enjoyed their first sustained possession of the half, but Ralph had already seen enough. At the next break in play he took off Stu and sent on Lyanco in a 3-5-2. Adams was fouled allowing JWP to send a free kick into the Box. Put out for a corner, Villa cleared JWP’s cross.
A sudden Villa break saw Watkins running at our defence but Bednarek showed him outside so that his eventual shot hit the side netting. With 60m gone, Romeu was carded for a not-so-subtle body check on Cash. Before taking the kick, Villa hooked Nakamba sending Jacob Ramsey on. Villa got plenty into the box, only for a dismal free kick to sail harmlessly into the Northam.
Moi required treatment before play resumed and Tuanzebe was carded for fouling Adams. JWP curled a peach of a cross into the box, finding the head of Ché Adams. Martinez had no chance with the goal and made a flashy save from JWP before the break, but his reactions to fingertip this Adams’ header over were superb. So close!
Nothing came of that corner, then Ramsey went up the other end and won another for Villa. The ball went in and out of our box a couple of times before the lino flagged for some unseen misdemeanour, but we got the free kick, so all was well. Both Cash and Buendia were down hurt. The full back was able to continue but on 71m Buendia came off with Archer replacing him. A quick Saints break could have ended spectacularly had Moi seen Adams busting a gut to get alongside him. He didn’t and lost the ball. This was pretty much his last involvement as Ralph soon sent on Diallo in his place.
Play was paused again when Salisu got a bash in the face, but he was able to continue after treatment. During this break El Ghazi was replaced by Davis – so glad the bugger didn’t score today! Villa were still looking to get back in the game, but signs of desperation were appearing. Cash’s ball into our box eluded teammates and McCarthy watched it roll harmlessly out. With 80m gone, our goalscorer was replaced by Broja and shortly after Tino was upended by the most obvious of fouls. Madley had made some dodgy calls this evening, but this took the biscuit when he waved play on.
With 5m left, a Villa break saw Watkins able to strike at goal but his effort was wide of the target. Their next attack saw them clearly put the ball out, but our demented ref gave a corner. We were surviving what Villa were doing, but could we survive dodgy officiating? From the corner, Jan was flattened and the Ref stopped play. Looked like it was our keeper that walloped him and play restarted with Villa being given the ball. Saints defence saw them off again.
On 90m Salisu was carded – didn’t see what for. There had been lengthy stoppages, so the +7 minutes was no surprise. Saints maintained their composure and kept Villa at bay. Hinchcliffe gave Adam Armstrong Sky’s MoM. Diallo and Lyanco both did well in the dying minutes and as the latter was bringing the ball out of defence, the final whistle sounded. Back-to-back wins for the first time in ages and a comfortable mid-table berth for the umpteenth international break are a good return from Saints recent improvement.
Sadly for Dean Smith, 5 straight defeats were too much for his bosses and he was fired within 48 hours of this match. Villa were much better in the second half and Saints sides of the not-too-distant past would have folded under their onslaught after the break. It is nice to keep clean sheets and allows us to win 1-0 – again! Would take the same at Norwich next time.
Man of the Match
Adam’s goal certainly puts him in the frame, but this win came from a great team performance. The defence did their job, but were greatly assisted by those playing in front of them. For me, the calm, sure-footed play of Romeu in the centre was probably the highlight so, by the finest of margins, he is my choice.