Aston Villa 1
As false dawns go it would be difficult to get more artificial than Southampton's stunning victory over Manchester United. Since that joyful afternoon in late October when the champions were dismantled and anything seemed possible, the Saints have won one point from a possible 18 and their fifth consecutive defeat yesterday saw them pass into the darkness of the relegation zone.
It is not the sort of run to be easily ended against a side like Aston Villa, who have spent the same period prospering mightily to become title contenders. There is a cohesion about Villa which should have them unruffled about their next six fixtures being against the other sides in the top seven. They were more incisive than their opposition yesterday and more likely to make swift inroads when it mattered.
It might have been different had Southampton converted two clear chances which came their way in the first five minutes. The recalled Gordon Watson was culpable on both occasions, the first more than the second. He failed to convert Matthew Oakley's long ball forward when he was clear and had only the goalkeeper to beat, and then saw his header from Oakley's corner also clutched by Michael Oakes.
Such misses can gnaw at the confidence of a team in Southampton's position, and so it proved. Villa, prompted by Andy Townsend in midfield and with Steve Staunton gradually in control in central defence, could afford to be undaunted by the statistic that the man who led their line, Savo Milosevic, had not scored for three months. After 35 minutes they showed why.
Alan Wright won a crucial tackle near halfway when otherwise his team might have been exposed. He slipped the ball to Milosevic and galloped up the left into spaces where no defenders lurked. Milosevic, who has delectable skills, delivered a return ball of beautiful weight to Wright. The defender advanced to the area and might profitably have shot. Instead he noticed Townsend had surged forward to his right and slipped the ball sideways for a comfortable tap-in.
Townsend might have scored twice more but was reckless on both occasions. Southampton went chasing the game, and brought on centre-half Ken Monkou as a forward. Their best chance arrived when Egil Ostenstad's stab swerved against a post, but by then Milosevic might have made sure for Villa when his curling drive was wonderfully saved by Dave Beasant.