Ross Barkley's first-half header was enough for Aston Villa to win 1-0 at Southampton, who were punished twice by VAR with the smallest of margins.
It was a dramatic start to the St Mary's encounter when Southampton had a huge penalty shout turned down. Stuart Armstrong's shot hit Matty Cash on the arm, but VAR official Mike Dean judged the ball to have hit the Aston Villa defender on the thigh first with the slightest of touches.
Southampton played well in the first half but failed to have a shot on target and were penalised for their blunt attack when Ross Barkley (41) nodded home from a Jack Grealish cross just before half-time.
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Both sides had chances in the second half - in which Southampton added two more names to their injury list in Ibrahima Diallo and Theo Walcott - and Saints thought they had snatched a late equaliser, but Danny Ings was flagged for offside.
📈 Aston Villa have won more PL games this season (10 in 19 games) than they did in the whole of last season (9 in 38)— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 30, 2021
📊 Villa’s total of 32 points is their highest after 19 PL games since Martin O’Neill’s team registered 35 in 2009-10 pic.twitter.com/5S4X6JRCLu
The VAR review showed the striker was offside by the intricacies of a shirt sleeve, with the offside lines showing it was mere millimetres out of place.
Aston Villa's valiant defending in the second half helped secure the points, sending them into eighth above Arsenal and Chelsea. Southampton remain in 11th as their recent drop in form continued, and they have now won just one of their last eight Premier League games.
Aston Villa's perfect away performance
The first VAR intervention of the evening came within 10 minutes of kick-off. Armstrong's strike hit Cash on the arm, with referee Lee Mason turning down the penalty claim before VAR stepped in for a review. However, after two minutes of replays, the decision was upheld, with Dean judging that the ball hit Cash's thigh before his arm with the lightest of touches.
Southampton played some nice football in the first half but only had one real chance of note in the 31st minute. Oriol Romeu picked out Armstrong on the left before the Scot cut the ball back for Ryan Bertrand at the top of the area. However, his strike went just wide. Soon after, Ollie Watkins fired an effort goalwards after some superb play between Grealish and Matt Targett on the left, but Alex McCarthy leapt to keep the striker at bay.
Southampton: McCarthy (6), Bertrand (6), Bednarek (7), Stephens (7), Ward-Prowse (7), Romeu (7), Walcott (6), Diallo (7), Armstrong (7), Redmond (7), Ings (6).
Subs used: Djenepo (6), Adams (7), Jankewitz (n/a).
Aston Villa: Martinez (8), Cash (8), Konsa (7), Mings (7), Targett (7), Luiz (6), McGinn (7), Traore (6), Barkley (7), Grealish (7), Watkins (7).
Subs used: Nakamba (n/a).
Man of the match: Matty Cash.
Aston Villa took an unexpected lead just before the break. Unsurprisingly, the build-up came again on the left flank as Targett's long pass found Grealish in behind replacement right-back James Ward-Prowse. The Villa captain fired a cross into the area, which was emphatically headed home by Barkley.
The second half lacked chances, but Southampton's evening went from bad to worse when they lost two players to injury within five minutes around the hour. Diallo went down first, followed by Walcott, with both needing to be replaced. Moussa Djenepo and Che Adams came on in their places.
- Southampton made three changes. Yan Valery and Che Adams dropped to the bench while Jake Vokins has joined Sunderland on loan. Ryan Bertrand returned from suspension alongside Oriol Romeu and Nathan Redmond following injury issues.
- Aston Villa named the same XI with new signing Morgan Sanson starting on the bench.
Southampton had their first shot on target in the 70th minute. Aston Villa initially cleared a free-kick, but Saints managed to keep it alive. Ings flashed the ball through for Adams, but Emiliano Martinez made a superb save. The Southampton forward tried to flick home the rebound, but Cash and Martinez both helped to keep it out.
🥅 Emiliano Martinez is the first @AVFCOfficial goalkeeper to record 10 PL clean sheets in a single season since Brad Friedel, who kept 15 in 2009-10— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 30, 2021
🧤 Only Man City’s Ederson (12) has more PL clean sheets than Martinez this season pic.twitter.com/Ba2rjgDOIA
The Aston Villa goalkeeper - registering his 10th Premier League clean sheet of the season - was once again the hero as Southampton pressed for an equaliser. He made a brilliant, sharp stop to keep out a Jan Bednarek header, before Adams and Jack Stephens saw their rebounded efforts blocked by John McGinn and Cash respectively on the line.
Southampton thought they had snatched a late equaliser, but Ings' effort was ruled out for offside. Martinez had made another sensational stop to deny Adams, but the England striker was lurking to bundle the ball home. However, the offside flag was raised and, after another decision made on the smallest of margins, VAR confirmed the goal would remain disallowed.
Man of the match - Matty Cash
It was an eventful evening for Cash. It began with what should arguably have been a penalty, but he escaped by the slightest of touches on his thigh. He was then inconspicuously involved in the Ings offside.
But his defensive work was good overall, especially in the second half. He made some superb blocks when called upon - two overall, the joint-highest in the Aston Villa team - and was especially useful when Adams went close after Southampton's first shot on target.
Cash was also in place when Saints peppered the Aston Villa goal with shots, blocking an effort from Stephens. There is no doubting his part in Villa's clean sheet.
What the manager's said
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl said: "I saw an interesting game and I am not sure we deserved to lose today. They had one chance, one big chance and they scored that. We had more, I think.
"Especially in the second half, we played some good stuff. At the moment, it is a little bit hard to take.
"In the first half, the penalty, I have not seen it yet but they have told me that it is a clear handball as he blocks the shot on the line. It is a clear goal otherwise.
"It fits with the whole situation, the injuries. We are a little bit unlucky. The offside goal from Ingsy, if you take the line here or there... They see it how they see it. Football is not always fair and at the moment it is not for us.
"There are so many people discussing handball in the box and I don't want to step in this queue. Let us concentrate on the things that we can do better and not discuss too much these situations.
"Everyone can decide for themselves if I should be overruling VAR or not. It is not for me to do it. Let them do their job. Let us try to do our job.
"We are struggling at the moment with injuries but also with scoring goals. That is the reason why at the moment it is tough for us to win games.
"The reason why I am not too worried is because we are having chances but the final ball does not want to go in. The precision of the final shot is not perfect. This we can do better."
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said: "It was a tough performance against a tough team. But what a lovely goal. Great ball from Jack and great header from Ross.
"Then we had to be resolute. We got some great blocks at the end there. And some VAR decisions. We have not had too many of them, it feels good. The offside I have no complaints with. There is a line there, it is what it is.
"As for the handball, I have not seen it back but Matt Cash said it came off his thigh.
"The first 20 minutes we had a problem. They played through us too easily. We changed things and made it difficult. We have had a good game today.
"I think that is nine or 10 clean sheets this season and that is brilliant. It gives you a platform and our attackers have the quality.
"Emi is a very good goalkeeper, that is why we brought him in. He was also the first one in the dressing room thanking the lads for the blocks as well."
Opta stats - Villa reach 10 wins
- Aston Villa have beaten Southampton in the Premier League for the first time since December 2013 (3-2 at St Mary's under Paul Lambert), ending a run eight such matches without victory (D3 L5).
- Southampton have failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League games: they'd only drawn a blank in five of their previous 41 in the competition before this.
- Aston Villa have gained their 10th win of the season in their 19th game, the earliest into a Premier League campaign they've won 10 games since 2009-10 (18 games).
- Only Harry Kane (11) and Kevin De Bruyne (10) have more assists than Jack Grealish (9) in the Premier League this season, while the last Aston Villa player to register more in a single season in the competition was Ashley Young (10 in 2010-11).
Southampton are back in action on Tuesday when they travel to Man Utd; kick-off 8.15pm. For Aston Villa, they will be back at home on Wednesday, welcoming West Ham; kick-off 8.15pm.