Southampton picked up a valuable 3-1 victory at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon, as goals from Danny Ings and Jack Stephens lifted them three points above relegation rivals Aston Villa.
Ings opened the scoring for the Saints on 20 minutes, rolling the ball into the empty net after Shane Long had forced a fine stop from Villa keeper Tom Heaton. Southampton doubled their lead ten minutes later, Jack Stephens darting across his marker and heading home from a James Ward-Prowse corner to put the visitors firmly in control.
Ings put the game beyond doubt only five minutes into the second half, punishing a defensive error from
But Southampton held on to earn a crucial three points, condemning Dean Smith's side to another worrying defeat in the process.
Key Talking Point
When you're entering the busiest and most important period of the season, you undoubtedly need your key players to be fit and firing - especially when in the midst of a serious relegation battle. So you can imagine Dean Smith's frustrations when John McGinn went down clutching his ankle after only four minutes.
The Scottish international has taken to the pace and demands of the Premier League with ease since Aston Villa's promotion from the Championship, and his injury will come as a major concern to coaches Smith and Terry, who face several of their potential relegation rivals over the coming weeks.
McGinn looked in serious pain as he left the field, and he was unable to put any weight on his left ankle, leaving a limp Villa team without any tenacity or guile in the centre of the park.
A long winter ahead for the Villans, perhaps.
Substitutes: Nakamba (5), Kodjia (6), Trezeguet (6)
STAR MAN - The last time Villa were relegated from the Premier League, Jack Grealish was deemed too immature and expensive for a top team to gamble on, and the young Englishman spent the next two seasons honing his craft in the Championship. If the Villans were relegated this season though, there would be no danger of Grealish going down with them.
The attacking midfielder is a class above the majority of his teammates, and he plays on a different wavelength to his attacking colleagues. The 24-year-old oozes class on the ball, and he is able to create openings at any given opportunity. Whilst those around him misplaced passes and needlessly lost possession, Grealish remained calm and gave his side some hope with a lovely strike from the edge of the box.
Ultimately it wasn't enough to stir a fightback, but there's no blaming Grealish for this defeat.
Key Talking Point
After having seemingly turned a corner under Ralph Hasenhuttl, Southampton then slipped to two successive defeats at the hands of Newcastle United and West Ham, and doubts began to set in once more among the St Mary's faithful. It's safe to say, they will be far more confident over their side's survival hopes after this impressive victory against Aston Villa.
The visitors started the game with a great intensity, and although Villa had the better chances during the opening exchanges, Southampton broke the deadlock after 20 minutes. From that moment on, they never looked back. Hasenhuttl's men were organised, determined and clinical - all things which their opposition lacked.
Even after the humiliating 9-0 drubbing by Leicester City, the Saints board stood by their man - and it appears they were right to do so.
Substitutes: Romeu (6), Obafemi (N/A), Adams (N/A)
STAR MAN - It is time this man got some credit for the shifts he puts in every week. It might be Danny Ings who gets the goals and the headlines, but I bet if you asked the former Liverpool man for the secret behind his rich vein of form, he'd probably point to Shane Long.
Long never stops running. It's tiring just watching the Irishman tear up and down the pitch, pressing and stretching his opposition with endless energy. It was the 32-year-old who set up the opening goal, racing in behind the Villa backline, but his low effort was saved, allowing a grateful Ings to put Saints ahead.
When the Villa defenders close their eyes tonight, it is Long's face that they will see. A pest.
The relegation six-pointers keep on coming for Villa, who entertain fellow strugglers Norwich City on Boxing Day.
Southampton follow up their trip to the midlands with a tough away fixture against Chelsea after Christmas, as Hasenhuttl's side continue their push to escape the relegation zone.