Aston Villa Away Lost 4 – 0
Saints chose to wear their ‘Ukraine’ kit at Aston Villa and persuaded the sponsors to stump up for a free scarf for travelling fans – I was hoping for winter-weight fake wool on a cold afternoon, but we got summer-wear fake silk instead. On the pitch, injury concerns prevented Walker-Peters from starting, with Livramento preferred. Match stats record a healthy 62% Southampton possession, but marks out of ten for an outplayed back-line would tell a different story, beginning with Stephens failing to stop Watkins from turning to score after 8 minutes from an Ings assist. Saints were looking okay going forward, which they did often enough as Stuart Armstrong caused problems, but it was nothing compared with the incisiveness of the home team’s counters and only Forster, or, specifically Forster’s legs, were keeping the game manageable. Villa found a referee willing to ignore a ploy of blocking off Forster at set pieces, so shortly before the interval, they were able to retrieve second phase ball from a corner and the unlikely figure of Chambers opened up Saints by feeding Coutinho who crossed for Douglas Luiz De Paulo to score easily. It could have been even worse at the break had Coutinho not tried too hard to avoid the massive frame of Forster and shot wide. Ralph at least tried to change things, but with an odd two-down substitution: Valery for Elyounoussi. It seemed like a move to three-at-the-back, but the coach described it as five… whatever, plan B was in tatters within ten minutes. Firstly the ball came to Coutinho following indecisive defence by Broja and he managed to get the ball through Forster via a deflection. 3-0 became 4-0 when Coutinho caused yet more trouble by presenting Ings with a chance finished with a precise first time shot, and celebrated with suitable restraint… despite all the abuse he was getting from the yellow and blue section. At this point the priority was damage limitation, an aim successfully achieved, maybe due to the introduction of Walker-Peters, or, just as likely, Villa having no real inclination to go for the jugular. We even managed a shot on target as the game wore on, but Martínez got a solid hand on Adams’ well hit shot and sent the ball looping over the bar onto the roof of the net. Not a good day at the office for the team, notably the starting centre backs, both full backs and out of sorts Romeu and Broja. Not so good for the coach either, as he seemed to be out-thought by Mr. Gerrard.
LSSC Man of the Match. Fraser Forster, having to make more saves than anyone expected. Shame about the Coutinho goal, though, even allowing for the deflection.