Aston Villa 0 Southampton 0 match report: Exactly what is going on at Villa?

Coaches suspended, takeover talk, a home draw with Southampton hailed like a win

Villa Park

“It’s a bit crap down here at the minute.” That was the verdict of the man selling copies of the  Heroes and Villains fanzine on the Trinity Road yesterday lunchtime. It is a popular view in these parts, and the ensuing 90 minutes offered little evidence to the contrary.

A goalless draw with Southampton was not a bad result for Aston Villa, ending a run of four straight defeats, edging them another point towards the Premier League safety line and sparing manager Paul Lambert any more awkward questions.It left Villa five points clear of third-bottom Cardiff City with four games to play, though the very fact that a drab stalemate, featuring just one shot on target from the home side, can be seen as a positive  underlines the paucity of the current regime.

Not that Lambert is complaining. “I think sometimes in football matches you get big points and you get huge points – that was a huge point for us considering what has been going on,” he said. “It has been a hard week, really hard, but the lads have been excellent for us.”

These are uncertain times at the Birmingham club after a week that has raised more questions than  answers about Villa’s future direction. In Lambert’s case the suspension of his two long-serving assistants, assistant manager Ian Culverhouse and head of football operations Gary Karsa, was actually not the blow to the manager that it might have appeared; it was a decision that the Scot actually endorsed, though he  acknowledged in the aftermath that he would not survive another season of grim struggle like this one.

 

Then there is the question mark surrounding the future of Randy Lerner, Villa’s absentee owner,  following reports on Friday of a possible summer takeover by an American consortium. Villa have denied the rumours but the front page of yesterday’s Birmingham Mail spelled out another commonly held view: “Why it may be time for Randy to go.”

Lerner has spent an estimated £250 million since buying Villa in 2006, but in the four years that have elapsed since the departure of Martin O’Neill, the tap has run dry, leaving Lambert frustrated with a lack of transfer funds and the supporters unhappy with a lack of transparency over what plans the American has for a club he has yet to visit this year.

For all the talk of a Villa strategy based around younger players, it was Southampton who turned up yesterday and showed what can really be achieved with a blend of youthful talents and some experienced older heads.

Admittedly his Southampton counterpart Mauricio Pochettino has a bigger transfer budget than Lambert – who has spent roughly £40m over two years while offloading his big earners – but over the 90 minutes the visitors fielded four home-grown teenagers and played the more inventive football by some distance.

A home crowd who have witnessed a record 10 League defeats from Villa this term were admirably patient – “Fantastic,” said Lambert – as Southampton dominated possession early on and went close twice through Rickie Lambert, who sent a header at Brad Guzan, then saw a shot deflect wide off Nathan Baker.

Andreas Weimann then just failed to get on to the end of Gabriel  Agbonlahor’s return pass after a speedy break between the two, but that was the best Villa could muster on the counterattack in the first period, and they had a let-off on the half-hour. After Baker misjudged a James Ward-Prowse cross as it dropped in the home box, the ball ran to Steven Davis just 10 yards  from goal but he failed to connect cleanly, enabling the grateful Guzan to save.

With Adam Lallana floating around dangerously, the visitors  always looked the more likely to score,  and although Karim El  Ahmadi missed a couple of half-chances early in the second half, Southampton were soon threatening to open Villa up with some slick interchanges. One should have led to the opening goal in the 55th minute when Shaw crossed low for Lallana to apply a tap-in only for the England midfielder to miss his kick. Another ended with Ron Vlaar’s excellent interception foiling the same player.

“We deserved to win, we did every- thing well, apart from putting the ball in the net,” said Pochettino afterwards. He was also frustrated by referee Lee Mason’s “inexplicable” decision not to award a penalty when Nathaniel Clyne’s cross struck the hand of Ryan Bertrand late on. “A clear penalty,” was the Argentinian’s verdict.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon from the Villa crowd greeted the  introduction as a late substitute of Callum Robinson, a England Under-19 forward making his Premier League debut.

He is a graduate of the Villa Under-21 side coached by Gordon Cowans who, along with Shay Given, was there in the dugout to provide Lambert support.

“I am really appreciative of their help,” said the manager, who rightly singled out the efforts of  another home-grown player, the winger Marc Albrighton, who proved Villa’s brightest spark – and provided their only shot on target just after the hour with a 20-yard effort that Artur Boruc needed two attempts to keep out.

The draw leaves Villa one point better off than at this stage last season, but actually one worse off than after 34 games the previous season under the unpopular Alex McLeish. Whether that constitutes progress is unlikely, but for Lambert at least, the glass was half full last night.

Line-ups:

Aston Villa (4-3-2-1): Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand; El Ahmadi (Holt, 80), Westwood, Delph; Albrighton, Weimann (Robinson, 84); Agbonhlahor.

Southampton (4-2-3-1): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Wanyama (Cork, 83), Schneiderlin; Ward-Prowse (Gallagher, 67), Lallana (Reed, 90), Davis; Lambert.

Referee: Lee Mason

Man of the match: Lallana (Southampton)

Match rating: 5/10

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