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Southampton claimed a vital three points against fellow strugglers Aston Villa as Rickie Lambert converted a penalty to give the Saints a 1-0 victory at Villa Park.
Villa defender Enda Stevens was adjudged to have brought down Southampton striker Jay Rodriguez, and Lambert made no mistake with his 34th minute spot-kick to move Nigel Adkins' side above their opponents in the Barclays Premier League table.
It completed a miserable week for Paul Lambert’s side, who lost 3-1 at Bradford in their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg earlier this week. In the Premier League, they have now taken only one point from their last five matches and this result plunged them into the relegation zone.
Villa were well below par in the opening 45 minutes and looked vulnerable on the counter-attack. They improved during the second half with Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann posing a threat, but a combination of the woodwork, poor finishing and fine saves from Artur Boruc meant they could not pierce the Saints’ rearguard.
Saints have now collected 17 points from their last 11 games - a sharp contrast to losing eight of their initial 10 games back in the top flight. They were well organised at the back and went forward with purpose.
Benteke looked sharp in the early stages and had a shot on the turn blocked by Jos Hooiveld at the expense of a corner. The Belgium international was then only just too high with a dipping effort from the edge of the Saints’ box.
But Villa were almost caught-out on the counter-attack after Lambert's first time pass found Rodriguez in yards of space. He cut into the box and slid the ball across Brad Guzan but Villa skipper Ciaran Clark was on hand to clear.
Southampton were looking dangerous and Rodriguez glanced a header just wide of the far post from Jason Puncheon's cross. Saints left-back Luke Shaw ventured forward and his low shot had Guzan scrambling across his line but was inches off target. Puncheon then shot over after creating space for himself inside the Villa penalty area with a neat turn.
Then came the spot-kick which put the Saints ahead, as Rodriguez went to ground just inside the area. Lambert sent Guzan the wrong way for his ninth goal of the season.
Lambert brought on Barry Bannan for Brett Holman at the start of the second period and his side showed more purpose. Artur Boruc parried Andreas Weimann's left-footed effort and then Benteke hooked the ball over the bar after the Polish goalkeeper had denied Stevens.
But Saints still threatened danger and Clark again had to be alert to halt Rodriguez's surge forward. Guzan was relieved when Puncheon crashed a fierce low drive against a post.
Villa staged a late rally and Boruc kept out Benteke's header. But he was powerless to stop Nathan Baker's header which crashed against the bar from substitute Barry Bannan's corner.
Benteke then shot wide after Boruc had bravely saved at the feet of Gabriel Agbonlahor as the visitors survived to seal their second away win of the season.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: “I can't fault them for the second half. They were relentless. We had loads of chances. They gave us everything and we've beaten by a penalty that wasn't one.
On another day Christian [Benteke] scores but, to be fair to the big guy, he has pulled us out of trouble loads of times this year. You can't have a blame culture. You are in it together and win and lose together."
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins: "For the team and the club, it is a massive three points for us. We've come away from home against a team close to us in the division and got three points and a clean sheet.
"That is only two defeats in the last 11 games. It was a baptism of fire at the start of the season for a newly promoted club. We are improving all the time and could have been out of sight in the first half and we had to weather the storm in the second half.
|19 Jan 2013||v West Brom (A)|
|29 Jan 2013||v Newcastle (H)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Everton (A)|
|10 Feb 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|23 Feb 2013||v Arsenal (A)|
|04 Mar 2013||v Man City (H)|