A first half penalty from Rickie Lambert earned Southampton their second away win of the season.
Nigel Adkins’ side completed the league double over the Villans in a match that saw the visitors equal their best unbeaten run of the campaign which stands at four games.
A fiercely contested encounter was settled little over ten minutes before the break when Jay Rodriguez on the back of Saints’ best spell of the game. Rickie Lambert unerringly stepped up to convert, sending Brad Guzan in the opposite direction, for his ninth goal of the season and fourth strike in five away fixtures.
A clean sheet to boot for Artur Boruc, who was regularly called into action in the closing stages of the contest, will be as warmly received as the three points, which saw Saints move up to 15th in the Barclays Premier League table.
Villa: Guzan, Clark, Stevens, Baker, Lowton, Holman (Bannan 46), Weimann, Westwood (Bowery 77), Delph, N’Zogbia (Agbonlahor 63), Benteke. Subs (not used): Marshall, Vlaar, Ireland, Lichaj.
Saints: Boruc, Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw (De Ridder 86), Puncheon (S. Davis 82), Schneiderlin, Cork, Ramirez (Fox 76), Lambert, Rodriguez. Subs (not used): K. Davis, Ward-Prowse , Seaborne, Lee.
Referee: Mark Halsey
Attendance: 32, 500
Adkins made changes to his side with Nathaniel Clyne, Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert all returning to the starting eleven.
Clyne’s involvement saw Jack Cork pushed into midfield, whilst Jos Hooiveld deputised for the injured Jose Fonte.
The visitors, in their changed strip of yellow and blue, got the match underway, attacking the Holte End on a bitterly cold afternoon in the Midlands.
It was a fast and furious start to the contest, with both defences having work to do from corners inside the opening few minutes of action, as the search for an early goal intensified.
Villa created the first chance from open play when powerhouse forward Christian Benteke shrugged off Clyne’s advances to blast a rising shot wide of Artur Boruc’s left post with six minutes on the watch.
The action was largely contained in midfield with the two teams looking to hit their opponents on the break, something Saints almost executed perfectly on the quarter hour mark. Lambert’s first time pass released Rodriguez down the right flank, and the forward burst into the area hoping for a lucky bounce as his shot from an acute angle bounced fortuitously back into Guzan’s hands.
On 21 Rodriguez linked up neatly with Ramirez on the other wing to keep the ball alive in the final third, which in turn, led to Puncheon receiving the ball on the right, where he crossed for Rodriguez to head narrowly wide of Guzan’s left post.
Puncheon turned up the heat with a strong run at Nathan Baker, which the hosts scrambled clear, before launching an attack of their own that Luke Shaw as last man standing, held his nerve in impeccably to deny Benteke from getting in on goal.
Shaw then almost made the difference at the other end when he cut in from the left to strike a low effort across goal, which flew inches wide of Guzan’s right post.
The visitors had grown into the game and were now in the ascendancy moving forward. Puncheon blazed over on the back of a mazy run on the right, before a Ramirez free-kick delivery into the box was pushed clear.
Following several missed fouls on Saints players, Adkins’ men were dramatically awarded penalty on 34 when Rodriguez was brought down by Enda Stevens just inside the area. Rickie LAMBERT stepped up and maintained his excellent record from the spot to score his ninth goal of the season, sending Guzan the wrong way.
The goal well and truly settled Saints’ superiority in the contest, though they were given a scare when Brett Holman broke free to fire wide via a deflection as Villa searched for a quickfire response.
Inside the last five minutes of the half, Saints maintained their threat through a series of corners, whilst Shaw, tested Guzan with a run and shot on the byline which the American ‘keeper knew little about as he made the block using his feet.
Saints held their lead heading into the break ending a promising opening 45 minutes.
Half Time: Aston Villa 0-1 Saints
Villa made one change at the start of the second half with Holman going off and Barry Bannan replacing him in the hosts’ midfield.
The half began in a similar fashion to the first 45 with both teams searching for an early break.
Paul Lambert’s men nearly levelled up when Andreas Wiemann forced Boruc into a low save, with Shaw back to clear the lines as Saints survived a scare.
At the other end, Rodriguez went close to picking out Ramirez inside the area, before the forward was then challenged at the last moment as he took aim for goal in the left side of the area.
Boruc was called into action again to deny Stevens’ fierce strike from the edge of the area, whilst Benteke could only put the rebound over inside the six yard box.
Benteke’s far post header was kept out by Boruc as Villa ramped up the pressure, but Saints weathered the storm and got back on the front foot with possession.
Rodriguez tested Guzan with a low drive before Boruc alert to deny N’Zogbia fizzing strike at the other end.
That was the Villa winger’s last involvement as he was replaced by Gabby Agbonlahor in the 63rd minute, a move which was warmly received by the home faithful.
It was Saints again though who looked dangerous on the attack with Lambert playing Rodriguez in once more. This time the frontman went to the byline and crossed invitingly towards Puncheon, only for a covering Villa defender to get there first.
The visitors continued to play assertively and were almost rewarded for their efforts when Puncheon received the ball from Lambert and Clyne’s interchange to strike the base of the post with a low effort that crept through a crowd of bodies and had Guzan beaten.
A prolonged spell of possession football from Adkins’ men preceded a chance for Schneiderlin when Lambert played the Frenchman through, only for Guzan to make a low save. The ‘keeper then watched on as Puncheon shaped to shoot, only for the winger’s effort to be deflected over the bar.
Saints made their first change on 76 minutes when Danny Fox replaced the ailing Ramirez, whilst Villa then withdrew Ashley Westwood and brought on Jordan Bowery in his place.
Villa found another gear with Benteke firing over, before Agbonlahor was charged down as he attempted to find an equaliser.
Adkins made his second substitution with ex Villa man Steven Davis coming on for Puncheon in the 82nd minute, with Saints looking to close the contest out.
Play was held up whilst Shaw received treatment on the back of a strong challenge which would eventually see the youngster leave the field on a stretcher, with Steve De Ridder replacing the full back, and Danny Fox dropping into defence.
Villa pushed on as the clock ticked down with Boruc called into action to deny Benteke’s nod down at the far post and Nathan Baker rattled the crossbar with a header, and the late pressure poured down from the hosts.
Benteke struck wide when it looked easier to score on the back of Agbonlahor’s blocked shot inside the area, and in a nervy five minutes of stoppage time, Villa pushed forward but could not find a way through.
Steven Davis had a late chance to seal the victory, but his skew wide mattered little as Saints held out for a priceless win.
Full Time: Aston Villa 0-1 Saints