Solano saves Villa as Saints turn sinners

Southampton 2 - Aston Villa 3
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The Independent Football

Southampton will have no one else to blame - certainly not their baffled fans - if this extraordinary squandering of a game that they seemed to have won by half-time proves their Premiership downfall. Villa turned the match around thanks largely to a superb second half from their substitute Nolberto Solano.

Southampton will have no one else to blame - certainly not their baffled fans - if this extraordinary squandering of a game that they seemed to have won by half-time proves their Premiership downfall. Villa turned the match around thanks largely to a superb second half from their substitute Nolberto Solano.

On Friday, Harry Redknapp had made a plea for the Southampton fans to get behind the team because, he said, they could be the "deciding factor" in the skirmish with relegation. Shades of Delia Smith at Norwich City. When someone starts moving some of the responsibility for the future from himself and the players to the fans, it tends to be a recipe for disaster. The disaster of relegation is now closing in. Redknapp said: "This was a massive blow. We desperately needed all three points but we let Villa back in the game."

Not knowing what was to come later, the fans needed no early encouragement to voice their support, since the team provided it in only the fourth minute, thanks in large measure to their exploitation of dreadful Villa defending. Peter Crouch, himself a former Villa player, should never have been allowed to squirm away from Jlloyd Samuel at the corner flag, nor should the centre have found Kevin Phillips unmarked. But it did, and Phillips scored a comfortable goal.

That comfort increased in the 13th minute when another Villa error - Thomas Hitzlsperger was caught in possession - allowed Jamie Redknapp to run the ball forward for Crouch to carry it on and slide his shot well beyond Thomas Sorensen.

Villa should have been further punished when a shot from Phillips was parried by Sorensen only as far as Crouch, who could not quite control the ball in front of an empty goal. To make matters worse for Villa, they then lost Darius Vassell with another ankle injury, suffered as Nigel Quashie put in a block with Vassell in the process of shooting.Villa would have finished the first half four or five down had it not been for Sorensen pulling off three fine saves from Phillips.

Villa's manager, David O'Leary, badly needed to get a grip. "We knew that we had to score the first goal of the second half - that would be crucial," he said. O'Leary moved Samuel into the problematical, injury-hit centre of defence and brought on Solano for a wide midfield role. The effect was soon worthwhile. Solano's touches of enterprise added a quality that had been forlornly missing and, in the 54th minute, he cut inside and played such an accurate ball forward that substitute Carlton Cole had a simple tap-in to score.

Solano then opened up the previously dominant South-ampton midfield with another shrewd pass to Juan Pablo Angel, whose cross was turned towards goal by Cole. Antti Niemi smothered the ball, but Villa players claimed he had dragged it over the line. The referee disagreed.

Suddenly the whole character of the game had changed. Villa discovered that they could find their men and hold the ball - pretty basic stuff, but earlier entirely absent. A corner by Hitzlsperger in the 69th minute went to the far post. Solano was there, unmarked, and he calmly brought the ball down and shot in. Only three minutes later, a hard cross from Ulises de la Cruz went straight at Steven Davis, who turned with it and more or less deflected Villa into the lead.

Amazingly, in this somersault of a match, Villa should have added a fourth goal when Cole sprung Southampton's poorly executed offside trap, ran on with only Niemi to overcome but hurriedly slammed the ball into the side-netting. For Southampton, the day finished even more sadly when Quashie was carried off.

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