Date:Sunday September 23 2012
Attendance: 30 713
If last weeks home match with Swansea epitomised rebirth then our away performance against Southampton underlined the extent of the challenge ahead.
For forty five minutes Villa largely dominated, closing and pressing well only to suffer epic capitulation in a second half in which Ricky Lambert showed Saints fans why he is the first name on the team sheet.
It was Villa that opened there account in the 36th minute with a Darren Bent toe poke from two yards out, after Stephen Ireland's bouncing pass evaded a a penalty spot scramble. It was a deserved lead, with the back triangle of Clark, Vlaar and Guzan looking reassuringly solid in defence.
Villa, although on top in the first half, still showed uncertainty and disconnection when shifting the ball from midfield to attack. Worryingly, with the midfield struggling to dominate, having recently demonstrated the ability to pass and move at speed, Bannan et al began to opt for longer balls toward the towering Benteke with Bent consistently looking for the ball over the top, directly down the middle. It was lazy football, with most of the balls inaccurate, Benteke straining at the neck to control or knock on. Steven Ireland showed the most invention but again failed to supply a good final ball or a defence splitting pass.
Villa could have been two up early in the second half had Darren Bent converted Benteke's beautifully weighted pass. Bent, finding himself alone in the box, met the ball easily but struggled with his left foot, Gazzaniga parrying the shot away. Bent, perhaps should have done better. A series of corners soon followed, Benteke narrowly missing the top corner with a bullet header.
With Ireland substituted at half time with a suspected broken arm, Ashley Westwood was brought on. He and Holman provided work rate, scurrying after the ball and anyone with it, though little craft was provided. With Villa continuing to struggle to link midfield to attack, showing little creativity and opting for longer balls, the team began to loose yards, defending deeper and deeper on what was a compact pitch.
Ricky Lambert was a different player in the second half, floating between midfield and attack, linking and driving play with power and skill. He equalised for Saints in the 58th minute. The ball came to him from a neat inside left pass on the edge of the area. Despite being surround by four players no tackle came in and Lambert was able to find the yard of space and time needed to hammer a beautifully placed shot into the corner.
Five minutes was all it took for Southampton to take the lead. Gaston Ramirez showed why he cost £12 million with a neat curling pass from outside of the box. The superbly weighted ball found Clyne's cutting run, the Southampton man slipping the ball past Guzan. It would be fare to say that Villa heads dropped after the goal, seemingly psychologically defeated as the home fans began to show their support as the relief went around St. Mary`s. They never recovered or showed either the guile, invention or character needed to dig themselves out.
With Lichaj struggling on the left and Bannan largely ineffectual, Agbonlahor was brought on along with recent acquisition, Joe Bennett, with Lambert going 4-3-3 in attempt to get Villa back into the game. However, Agbonlahor soon founded himself stranded and equally targeted by desperate long balls or heavy passes as Villa continued to sink back.
Lambert commented after that the scoreline misrepresented the game as a whole. Maybe it did, though it did not misrepresent the second half, with Villa looking ready to concede the more the game went on.
Southampton did not need to wait long for the the third. Lambert played Puncheon into the box. Villa watched on as the latter took the ball down toward the byline, his upward bound shot deflecting in off Clark. Lambert, who never misses from the spot, made sure the sword went all the way with his second goal and Southampton's fourth, converting his 93rd minute penalty.
All credit to a great Southampton second half performance. Make no mistake though. Aston Villa were a thing of football nightmares in the second half. They were inept, deep lying and frozen, with no answer to Southampton's creative wave or to the exceptional Ricky Lambert.
As in all things football, simple things did not happen. Vlaar was not able to take the defence forward and reposition the back line, Lambert was allowed free reign with no man marking, tempo disappeared which allowed Southampton far too much space and with no creativity from midfield the ball started to go over the top without accuracy. It was a dreadful second half outing that invited defeat. In the words of Paul Lambert it was simply 'not good enough.'
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Date:Sunday September 23 2012
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