Southampton recorded an important 2-0 win against relegation strugglers Aston Villa at St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon.
Saints almost took the lead early on as Will Smallbone, making his Premier League debut, saw a deflected effort from distance that hit the post.
The hosts did break the deadlock soon after thankt to Shane Long, who diverted home a clever cross from Moussa Djenepo.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side continued to carve out numerous opportunities with Danny Ings, Ryan Bertrand and Djenepo all squandering big chances.
Villa almost made Saints pay, ans even had a goal disallowed for a clear offside against Mbwana Samatta.
The game was finally settled in injury time as Saints hit Villa on the counter attack. Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina went up for a corner, trying to get an equaliser, but Southampton broke and Stuart Armstrong slotted into an empty net to secure the vital three points.
This result moved Saints to 34 points for the season, so it is now looking increasingly likely that they will spend another campaign in England’s top division.
After an excellent performance from Southampton, here’s how we rated the players.
Alex McCarthy: 6
To say he didn’t have too much to do would be somewhat of an understatement.
However, McCarthy was decisive late on to punch away the corner that led to Saints’ second and he can celebrate a rare clean sheet.
James Ward-Prowse: 7
The make-shift right-back had the unenviable task of marking Jack Grealish but he coped superbly.
He wasn’t as creative going forward as he normally is but he’ll settle for that as he helped keep Villa’s main man quiet.
Jack Stephens: 7
A relatively comfortable afternoon for the whole defence but the likes of Stephens, perhaps, made it look easier than it was.
Jan Bednarek: 7
Bednarek came back into the side for Jannik Vestergaard following the Burnley defeat and his presence at the back seemed to result in an overall assured defensive performance.
Ryan Bertrand: 6
There were a couple of times when Bertrand was slightly wasteful in possession but it was, overall, a decent outing for the left-back.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: 9
Hojbjerg was superb.
Saints absolutely bossed the midfield battle and were led by the 24-year old, who added quality with the ball to his usual abilities without it.
Will Smallbone: 8
On his Premier League debut, Will Smallbone did not look out of place one bit at St Mary’s.
He saw an early deflected effort hit the post and the 20-year old was even dictating the pace of the play at times.
Stuart Armstrong: 8
A much-improved performance from Armstrong as he had more of an impact on Saints’ attacking play.
His neat and tidy flicks helped his side get into positive positions and he capped his display with a goal and a celebration to match the importance of the victory.
Moussa Djenepo: 6
If there was one word to describe Djenepo’s performances since arriving on the south coast last summer, it would have to be ‘erratic’ and that was no different against Villa.
He produced a very clever cross with the outside of the right boot for Long’s goal which the rest of his afternoon varying between the sublime and the ridiculous.
Shane Long: 7
It was an unorthodox finish but Shane Long won’t care as he struck his second goal of the season.
His great record against Villa continues with the 33-year old having been directly involved in 11 goals in his last eight Premier League starts against the Villains.
Danny Ings: 6
An unusually quiet afternoon for Saints’ top scorer – despite all the chances that his side created.
He only really had one clear opportunity of note which was shot that went straight at Pepe Reina.
Michael Obafemi (sub): 6
Obafemi’s persistence led to a glorious chance for Che Adams to double Saints’ advantage and his introduction definitely added some much-needed energy to the attack.
Che Adams (sub): 7
Adams had the chance to finally break his goalscoring duck with two great chances, the second of which was particularly guilt-edged.
He had rounded Reina but saw his fierce strike blocked by a Villa defender.
The 23-year old then produced a sublime ball to find Armstrong for the clinching goal to cap one of his best cameos of the season.
Oriol Romeu (sub): N/A
It was the usual late substitution to see out the win for Romeu and it certainly worked. He wasn’t on the pitch long enough to warrant a rating.