Aston Villa 3 Southampton 0
Southampton held out for more than an hour against a subdued Aston Villa, but once behind had nothing to offer. The margin probably flattered the home side, who shone only in the closing stages, but that is of little consolation to Southampton, who are dragged into increasingly turbulent waters at the bottom of the Premiership, where two points now cover the bottom five.
With their place in Europe assured, Villa have little to play for in any material sense and it showed in a performance devoid of spark throughout a drab first half in which neither goalkeeper needed to make a save for more than half an hour.
Southampton, having drawn hope from Saturday's defeat of Blackburn, had much more cause for satisfaction and it appeared Dave Merrington, their manager, had made a canny decision in restoring Bruce Grobbelaar to the goalkeeper's jersey, in place of Dave Beasant. The former Liverpool player kept out Andy Townsend's long-range drive in the first half, then denied Savo Milosevic and Alan Wright in the early part of the second.
However, having looked in commanding form on his 500th League appearance, Grobbelaar then made the critical mistake which invited Villa's opening goal, rushing from his line to chase Townsend's corner but failing to claim the ball, and Ian Taylor made an instant strike.
It turned out to be a mortal wound to Southampton's survival hopes as the Coca-Cola Cup winners came to life. Dwight Yorke missed one chance to extend their lead, but then combined splendidly with Gary Charles in a moment of high skill to set up the full-back's first goal in a Villa shirt, walked in from close range.
Two minutes later, Yorke broke free in pursuit of Townsend's pass, cutting in from the left to stroke home his 25th goal of the season. A breathless finale might have produced still more, Grobbelaar pushing a Townsend chip on to one upright before Tommy Johnson, following up, crashed the loose ball against the other. Milosevic, fortunate to have gone unnoticed by the referee earlier when landing a punch on Tommy Widdrington, then hit the woodwork himself before kicking down an advertising board in frustration.
It was a defeat addressed with honest clarity by Merrington, who appreciates the gravity of Southampton's plight. "One goal killed us off and it was Bruce's fault that we conceded it," he said. "He should not have come off his line. I felt Milosevic was lucky to stay on the field. Had one of my players done something like that I would have taken him to task severely, but then I'm not going to make that an excuse. If after a whole season you finish down at the bottom, you have only yourselves to blame."
Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles, Ehiogu, McGrath (Scimeca, 47), Taylor, Wright; Johnson, Draper, Townsend; Yorke, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Joachim, Oakes (gk).
Southampton (5-3-1-1): Grobbelaar; Neilson, Dodd, Widdrington, Benali, Charlton; Hughes, Venison (Watson, 65), Tisdale; Le Tissier; Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Magilton, Beasant (gk).
Referee: P Danson (Leicester).