Saints got their Premier League campaign up and running thanks to a fantastic second half comeback at St Mary’s.
Trailing 1-0 at the break to a fortunate Darren Bent strike ten minutes before the interval, there was a horrible feeling of déjà vu as Saints fell behind in the same manner as they did to Wigan on home soil back in August.
However, a fired up second half display from Nigel Adkins’ men saw them strike four times in the just over half an hour to earn the hosts’ first points of the season in an emphatic style.
They levelled up before the hour mark through Rickie Lambert’s thumping low drive, before taking the lead through Nathaniel Clyne’s first goal for the club just past the hour mark.
It was 3-1 when Jason Puncheon rifled home inside the area, and the win was made even sweeter in stoppage time when substitute Emmanuel Mayuka was felled inside the area. Lambert gleefully struck home his second of the game from the spot, but credit too should go to Gaston Ramirez, whose performance in his first showing in front of the home support was at times breath-taking.
The success was Saints’ first over Villa in six attempts, as the hosts ended a wait since October 2002 to take all three points off the Midlands side.
Saints: Gazzaniga, Clyne, Yoshida, Fonte, Fox (Richardson 46), Schneiderlin, S. Davis (Ward-Prowse 79), Lallana, Ramirez, Puncheon (Mayuka 74), Lambert. Subs (not used): K. Davis, Seaborne, Guly, Rodriguez
Villa: Guzan, Vlaar, Clark, Lichaj (Bennett 68), Lowton, El Ahmadi, Holman, Bannan (Agbonlahor 68), Ireland (Westwood 46), Benteke, Bent. Subs (not used): Given, N’Zogbia, Bowery, Weiman.
Referee: Jon Moss (West Yorks)
Attendance: 30, 713
Jos Hooiveld missed out through injury with Maya Yoshida stepping in for his full home debut.
Goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga also came into the side, with fellow new signing Gaston Ramirez starting. James Ward-Prowse joined Kelvin Davis on the bench in other changes to the starting eleven.
Saints got the game underway attacking the Chapel Stand on a warm and bright afternoon inside St Mary’s backed by a lively and near full house.
The hosts looked to set the tempo early on as Nigel Adkins’ men pressed their opponents through the final third with both Ramirez and Rickie Lambert finding pockets of space in the initial exchanges as both teams searched for a quick break on the counter.
Saints found joy early on down the left side where Lallana twice got in to supply Lambert, with the striker firing over with his second attempt as he drew Guzan out of his goal.
With the action swinging from end to end, the clearer chances continued to come the way of the home side with Steven Davis drilling wide on the quarter hour mark, but as yet, neither ‘keeper had been seriously called upon.
From a more direct approach Davis fed Lallana, who in turn found Ramirez, and the Uruguayan took his first sight of goal with a low shot that flashed wide of Guzan’s left post.
Villa’s main threat lay through the middle with Darren Bent playing on the shoulder of Fonte, but the Portuguese stood up well to the first forays forward from the England capped frontman.
Some delightful one touch passing from the hosts involving Ramirez, Puncheon, and Lallana, drew an opportunity for the latter to find the target, but it was straight down the throat of Guzan who looked relieved to collect the ball into his grasp.
Just past the half hour Saints overloaded the Villa area once more as Lambert turned Puncheon’s deep cross back into the area, where Lallana acrobatically tested Guzan with an overhead kick.
At the other end, Villa midfielder Barry Bannan fizzed a first time shot on the turn narrowly wide of Gazzaniga’s goal as the Argentine remained untroubled.
But on 36 and after a scrap inside the area to clear the ball, Gazzaniga was beaten when Stephen Ireland’s miscued shot into the ground bounced up kindly inside the six yard box for Darren BENT to pop up with a tap in which undeservedly put the visitors in front.
Saints sought a quick response, and were awarded a free-kick when Lambert was brought down by Ron Vlaar on the left side of the area around 25 yards from goal. Vlaar was booked, but the set piece delivery from Lallana didn’t reach his intended target which frustratingly summed up the hosts’ first half opportunities.
One minute of stoppage time at the end of the half saw no further chances come Saints’ way as they chased a deficit at the break for the third time in four league matches.
Half Time: Saints 0-1 Aston Villa
Both teams made a change apiece at the start of the second period with Frazer Richardson replacing Danny Fox for the hosts, as Clyne moved across to left back. Villa brought on Ashley Westwood in place of Ireland in their midfield.
Saints were quickest out of the traps and tested Guzan when Lallana picked out Puncheon inside the area on the left, but his low shot was smothered by the American ‘keeper.
Moments later at the other end Gazzaniga produced a good save to deny Bent one on one with a firm block using his body, and there was a further let off for the home side when Christian Benteke powerfully headed the resulting corner wide.
After a sustained spell of pressure, Rickie Lambert felt he should have been awarded a penalty on 52 when he was tugged to ground in trying to reach Richardson’s searching free-kick from the right, but referee Jon Moss waived the appeals away as play continued with the hosts still in the ascendancy.
And the momentum paid off on 58 minutes when Lallana’s low cross on the turn made its way to LAMBERT on the edge of the area. Lambert took one touch to bring the ball under control before drilling a thunderous strike under Guzan’s outstretched arm for an equaliser.
Saints attacked with renewed vigour and almost turned the game on its head two minutes later when Lallana smashed a fierce volley over the bar with Guzan beaten.
But the hosts didn’t have to wait long to strike again with another well crafted goal, but this time the scorer came from an unfamiliar source.
Lambert’s incisive pass to Ramirez was flicked on impressively by the Uruguayan into the path of the on running Nathaniel CLYNE who slid the ball past Guzan inside the area for 2-1 on 64 minutes. The goal owed much to the vision of Ramirez, but Clyne kept his cool magnificently to hand the hosts a lead.
On 68 Villa replaced Barry Bannan and Eric Lichaj with Gabby Agbonlahor and Joe Bennett respectively, in a bid to get back into the game.
Puncheon went close to extending the lead when he bent a curling effort form the right side of the area just past the left post, as Saints aimed to kill off any hope that the visitors had of getting back into it.
He was able to seal that though moments alter when PUNCHEON collected Lambert’s pass and turned Lowton inside out before crashing a high shot into the top right corner for 3-1 in the 72nd minute.
The third Saints goal scorer was replaced soon after by Zambian forward Emmanuel Mayuka who slotted in on the right side of the front three for the final quarter of an hour or so.
Mayuka was handed a chance to add to the scoreline when Ramirez teed him up on the edge of the box, but the forward’s effort crept just wide of the right post.
Former Villa man Steven Davis was replaced by James Ward-Prowse for the final eleven minutes of action with Saints looking to see the game out in a controlled manner.
Villa’s scorer Darren Bent struck a free-kick over the bar from a dangerous position, but that was the closest the visitors came to inflicting any late drama, as Saints remained the more likely to add to their tally.
Ramirez and Lallana linked up with ease as they shimmered their way through Villa with ease late on, in what was one of the more comfortable endings to a Premier League game.
And the win was made even sweeter in stoppage time when Saints were awarded a late penalty when Mayuka was tripped by Guzan. LAMBERT rattled home his second of the game with his usual assurance to add the gloss to the first win of the season.
Full Time: Saints 4-1 Aston Villa