Football: Saints' road woes run on

Aston Villa 3 Southampton 0
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The Independent Online
ASTON VILLA secured their first win in nearly three months on Saturday in a match where the main talking point was not how the season's early front-runners had suddenly found their form (not hard against Southampton on their travels these days) but the controversial sending-off of Saints' Claus Lundekvam.

"You don't know what you're doing," the away fans chanted at the end of the first half as the referee dismissed the Norwegian for a second bookable offence. The red card will no doubt provoke debate over the consistency of Premiership officials - Lundekvam was made to walk for a challenge that happened moments after the linesman had flagged Villa offside, a signal that the referee Neale Barry did not take into account - but the away supporters' sentiments might equally have been directed at their team's manager.

Dave Jones, whose side have picked up six points from 51 away from The Dell since August and look increasingly likely to be relegated, was critical. "Surely if play had been stopped for a foul in our favour, then what went on before shouldn't have counted regarding the sending-off," Jones said.

What he did not address in depth was why his side have been performing so poorly away. How many times this season have Saints fans heard him say "What we've got to stop doing is making basic errors" and then make tactical decisions that sometimes appear bewildering? After seeing his men go behind after a goal from Mark Draper - he had so much space, he could have stopped for a picnic en route to goal - Jones brought on the defender Francis Benali for Mark Hughes.

Perhaps he thought Southampton were 1-0 up, not 1-0 down, but even that would not explain his team selection in recent weeks. On Saturday, everything positive about the Saints came from Matt Le Tissier, who has not been an automatic choice in the starting line-up recently, but will need to be from now on to give Saints a prayer.

Villa exploited Southampton's weaknesses to increase their lead via a Julian Joachim lob (after a sublime pass from Paul Merson) and then a Dion Dublin header a minute from time. Villa's coach Steve Harrison, who deputised for John Gregory at the after-match press conference, said: "The first feeling is of sheer relief."

Villa's only realistic path to Europe now lies in the Intertoto cup, but Harrison seemed content just to have secured a win. "The way he [Gregory] has dealt with things during this run has been first-class. We've had 12 phenomenal months before hitting this poor spell. But John has kept his nerve and composure. Nobody feels defeats more than him but he will be a better manager because of this."

Southampton fans might feel the same about Jones, but they are probably not holding their breath.

Goals: Draper (1-0) 13; Joachim (2-0) 66; Dublin (3-0) 89.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Watson, Southgate, Calderwood; Wright, Stone, Draper (Merson, 57), Taylor, Thompson (Hendrie, 5); Dublin (Barry, 89), Joachim. Substitutes not used: Vassell, Oakes (gk).

Southampton (4-4-2): Moss; Hiley, Monkou, Lundekvam, Colleter (Hirst, 72); D Hughes, Dodd, Marsden, Le Tissier; M Hughes (Benali, 53), Ostenstad (Ripley, 85). Substitutes not used: Stensgaard (gk), Beattie.

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe). Booking: Southampton: Marsden. Sending off: Southampton: Lundekvam.

Man of the match: Merson.

Attendance: 32,203.


Sat 17 April: BLACKBURN (H)

Sat 24 April: Derby (a)

Sat 1 May: LEICESTER (H)

Sat 8 May: Wimbledon (a)

Sun 16 May: EVERTON (H)