Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said that some of his players had “played their way out” of next Sunday’s Carabao Cup final after defeat at Southampton.
The Saints dominated the first half, taking an early lead through Shane Long’s third goal of the season, before Stuart Armstrong sealed victory in stoppage time.
Southampton’s first win in five matches moves them 10 points clear of the relegation zone but Villa, who managed just one shot on target, remain a point above the bottom three.
They have also suffered three straight defeats as they prepare to face EFL Cup holders Manchester City at Wembley.
“My feelings are embarrassment with the performance,” said Smith. “The thing that hurts me the most is a lack of fight.
“They’ve let themselves down with their own personal performances. We got beaten and deservedly so.
“Our quality just wasn’t there. Some of them have played their way out of a cup final.”
Saints enjoy some home comforts
Southampton won 3-1 in the reverse fixture just before Christmas, a victory that sparked a run of 13 points from a possible 15 to steer them clear of the bottom three.
But they have continued to lose at home, with last week’s 2-1 defeat by Burnley their eighth home reverse of the season.
Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has spoken about the pressure of playing at St Mary’s, challenging his players to turn it back into a fortress, and they started like a side with the Austrian’s words still ringing in their ears.
Recalled winger Moussa Djenepo was a constant threat on the left, despite having his head bandaged midway through the first half, and Will Smallbone also impressed after coming in for his Premier League debut – a day after turning 20.
The midfielder almost had a goal inside eight minutes, his deflected strike hitting the outside of the post as the hosts pinned Villa into their own half in the opening stages.
Djenepo then got to the byeline down the left wing and his awkward-looking centre with the outside of his right foot found Long, who bundled in his third goal in six games at the near post.
Danny Ings and Djenepo were denied by Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina but Saints remained on top after the break, with captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg forcing a low save from the veteran Spaniard and substitute Che Adams denied by a goal-line block.
And with Reina having come up for a late corner, Armstrong raced on to Adams’ long ball to sidefoot into an empty net and make the scoreline a better reflection of Saints’ dominance.
Villa fear worst for cup final
The two sides were level on points when they last met in December, with Villa outside the relegation zone on goal difference and Southampton inside it. How manager Dean Smith must wish his side could string together a run like the south coast side went on subsequently.
Since losing to Saints, Villa have won three league games and each was followed by defeat in their next league game.
They were perhaps unlucky to concede a last-gasp winner at home to Tottenham last week and on Saturday would have hoped to see players fighting for EFL Cup final places.
They also had Tyrone Mings return after missing the Spurs defeat with tonsillitis – but the England defender had to repel Southampton almost single-handedly early on.
Captain Jack Grealish was well shackled by Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse, playing at right-back, and new signing Mbwana Samatta received precious little service throughout.
Trezeguet, a first-half substitute for the injured Anwar El Ghazi, was their biggest threat, providing some energy down the right wing and their only shot on target midway through the second half.
But they failed to build on the momentum he provided and needed a goal-line block by Kortney Hause to prevent Southampton sealing victory sooner than they did.
So instead of gaining a morale boost before next week’s final, Villa fans are fearing a repeat of last month’s 6-1 drubbing by City – followed by the growing prospect of an immediate return to the Championship.
Man of the match – Moussa Djenepo (Southampton)
‘It was the lowest of the low’ – what they said
Villa boss Dean Smith: “I try to defend the players but today was not good enough. We got what we deserved.
“We spoke about having a good start but in the first 20 minutes we never laid a glove on them. They were miles off it in the first half.
“Last week against Tottenham gave me a lot of heart then today, dreadful. We can’t play that bad again.
“It has to be the lowest of the low. The defeat at Watford (3-0 in December) was bad but this was on a par.”
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl: “It was very important to show a reaction after the last home game and the way we started was what we wanted to do today.
“We had 28 shots and that shows how dominant we have been. It was a fantastic atmosphere and the guys enjoyed it. It’s important to have a fortress here again.”
Villa’s travel sickness – the stats
- Aston Villa are winless in eight matches against Southampton in all competitions (D3 L5) since winning 3-2 at St Mary’s in December 2013.
- Villa have won just two of their past 32 Premier League away games (D5 L25).
- Villa remain the only Premier League side without an away clean sheet this season, with their last shut-out on the road coming in January 2016 (0-0 v West Brom)
- Southampton faced just four shots – their joint-lowest tally in a Premier League match since the start of last season (also four v Wolves in October 2019).
- Southampton have kept two clean sheets in their past four home Premier League games – as many as in their previous 28 matches at St Mary’s in the competition.
Southampton visit West Ham next Saturday (15:00 GMT) while Villa face Manchester City in the EFL Cup final at Wembley next Sunday (16:30 GMT).