Aston Villa did little to impress once again, but Southampton was equally uninspiring and in the end it was a horrendous penalty that made up the margin of victory.
A bad situation has gotten significantly worse thanks to Southampton's 1-0 win over Aston Villa in Birmingham. With the win the Saints leapfrogged both Villa and Newcastle into 15th, while the loss sent the home side below Wigan and into 18th. In what has become a theme this season, it is impossible to fault the effort of the players but it's equally difficult to deny that the quality just isn't there at the moment. The defense did enough to keep Southampton off the board but was on their heels all game long, and while the team was able to create some decent chances the final product was woefully lacking. Now, with just 16 games remaining, Aston Villa find themselves in an incredibly perilous situation, and with the recruitment of real difference-makers looking increasingly unlikely, no one can be faulted for taking an incredibly pessimistic view of the side's chances to avoid the drop.
The game began with Villa on the front foot, and though Southampton were rattled the home side were unable to do much to threaten Artur Boruc. The promising start wouldn't last for long, and by the half hour mark the Saints had taken control. Fabian Delph was in complete control of the center of the park early on, but once Southampton began to funnel their attacks down Villa's left flank the nature of the game changed, and with each wave of Saints attacks the Villa back line began to look closer to the breaking point. In the 33rd minute it looked like disaster was ready to strike, when a comedy of errors in Villa's penalty area led to Jay Rodriguez slipping the ball to Gaston Ramirez who thankfully fired well wide of Brad Guzan's open goal. But relief quickly turned to horror, as referee Mark Halsey judged Enda Stevens to have fouled Rodriguez. There was great protest from the Villa players, and rightfully so; numerous replays showed little if any contact between Stevens and Rodriguez and none that could have possibly been considered to be a foul. In the end, the protests were unsurprisingly ineffective, ad Rickie Lambert tucked the penalty home to give Southampton the lead.
It would not have been a shock to see Villa fall apart from there, but that would not come to pass. If anything the goal seemed to wake Villa up, and the remainder of the half was spent showing an actual threat to Southampton's goal. The second half began much in the same way, and there was a urgency and purpose to Villa's attacking play. Unfortunately, there wasn't much in the way of quality or luck. Christian Benteke twice missed wide-open nets, Nathan Baker hit the post after winning a free header from a corner, Jordan Bowery's hard-work to win a ball in the box went unrewarded when his shot was deflected wide, and Enda Stevens' blistered effort was somehow stopped by Boruc in one of the Southampton keeper's few moments of action. On any other day, this game very well may have been a relatively comfortable, 2-0 Villa win. But it wasn't today, and that's become a regular occurrence.
This Villa team is not very good, to say the least. That's apparent to anyone that's been paying attention. But they haven't had many breaks, either. Southampton's penalty is one example, Benteke's inability to control two gifted chances is another. Were this still the early season or were Villa not in so precarious a position, it would be easy to chalk this game up as one of those things, curse the rotten luck and move on. But the timing makes it impossible to be quite so ho-hum about things. Villa didn't deserve to lose, but they didn't do nearly enough to win either. That's not a luxury this team has at the moment. This was a winnable game against a team Villa need to beat out to avoid the drop, and the performance just wasn't good enough. Things have to get better if there's any hope of reaching safety. But right now, Villa fans would be forgiven to not having a lot of confidence that they will.