Aston Villa survive late scare on the South Coast to claim a 1-0 victory over Southampton at St Mary’s.
A first half Ross Barkley header was enough to give Villa their first win in nine against the Saints and their first at this ground since 2013.
Dean Smith was left in disbelief following a 3-2 defeat to Burnley in midweek, but his side responded perfectly against Southampton to take all three points.
It took Watkins six minutes to almost continue where he left off at Turf Moor in front of goal, but the striker was to be left disappointed his left footed strike was dragged wide of the post following a through ball from Ross Barkley.
Southampton’s first chance brought handball appeals from the Saints players following a block from Matt Cash. After tidy skill from Danny Ings inside the box, the ball was pulled back ball to Stuart Armstrong whose shot was deflected over the bar by the Villa right back.
Following a VAR review, the decision was no handball as contact was made first with Cash’s thigh then his hand. Mike Dean on VAR told referee, Lee Mason to continue without the need for the offence to be checked on the pitch side monitor.
The hosts were creating more of the chances in the first half hour and the first goal almost came from an unlikely scorer in their captain, Ryan Bertrand. A ball fell to the left back on the edge who struck sweetly with his left but only into the side netting.
Alex McCarthy had been a bystander for most the half but was called into action to deny Watkins firing Villa into the lead. Matt Targett’s low driven cross was controlled well and sent towards goal by Watkins but the Southampton shot stopper saved finely to his left.
The goal arrived minutes later and this time there was nothing the Saints keeper could. A move down the left saw Targett find Grealish who put an excellent first time cross into the box which was met by the head of Barkley to open the scoring after 41 minutes.
Grealish now has eight assists in the Premier League this season with only Harry Kane and Kevin De Bruyne registering more than the Villa skipper.
Southampton started the second half brightly and had two early chances. First Nathan Redmond saw his shot blocked by Tyrone Mings before James Ward-Prowse’s effort from a free kick hit the Villa wall.
Watkins continued causing problems for the Saints defence and his hard work earnt a foul which he nearly scored from. Barkley whipped in the set piece and the striker’s header narrowly bounced wide, although the flag was had been raised for an offside.
Prior to this battle, Aston Villa had kept the second highest clean sheets this season and had Emiliano Martinez to thank that their ninth was still intact with under 20 minutes remaining.
The Argentine produced a fantastic save to deny Che Adams equalising with the hosts’ first shot on target. A through ball from Ings found the substitute but his shot was saved first by Martinez before the follow up was cleared by Cash as Adams look set to score.
Southampton intensified their push for an equaliser with five minutes to go and had three massive chances in quick succession but each time failed to find a way past the Villa defensive wall.
Redmond saw his shot deflected behind for a corner and from the set piece Jan Bednarek’s header forced Martinez into an excellent near post save before Jack Stephens’ shot was blocked on the line by Cash.
Villa were left to defend six stoppage time minutes and in the third had their hearts in their mouths when Ings netted.
Martinez denied Bertrand’s original strike and as the ball dropped, the Saints striker was first to react and fire into the net. However, the celebrations were cut short by the raising off the flag and after a VAR review, Ings was deemed offside by an arm sleeve to the relief of the visitors.
Smith’s side held on for the final couple of minutes to return to winning ways on the road and end a run of three straight away defeats. Next up Villa host an inform West Ham side in what could prove vital for any ambitions of European football.