Southampton spoiled Paul Lambert's 100th match as Aston Villa manager by snatching a late 1-1 draw at Villa Park in the Barclays Premier League.
Nathaniel Clyne, fresh from making his England debut in the international break, scored his third goal of the season nine minutes from time to secure a share of the spoils for Ronald Koeman’s high-flying side. Villa spent much of the first half under the cosh, but went ahead against the run of play thanks to the persistence of Gabby Agbonlahor, who capitalised on Fraser Forster's error. The goal was the first Southampton had conceded in more than seven hours of Barclays Premier League football, and they struggled to break down a resolute home backline.
Having snapped a run of six straight defeats with a 0-0 draw at West Ham United before the international break, Villa fans grew hopeful of just a second home win of the season as the match entered its final 10 minutes. But Clyne latched onto a Ryan Bertrand pull-back to rifle home and deny the home side a morale-boosting win.
Jores Okore made his first Villa appearance since September 2013 after a serious knee injury as part of three changes to Villa's back four, which was quickly put under pressure by the visitors. Southampton came into the match as one of the league's form sides after five straight wins. They went close three times in the opening 10 minutes as they looked to impose themselves on the contest.
The makeshift Villa defence stood firm, not allowing Southampton any clear chances, while Agbonlahor looked a menace on his own on the counter-attack. The Villa captain managed to break the deadlock all by himself on the half-hour. A long ball out of the Villa defence was left by Toby Alderweireld for Forster. But the Southampton goalkeeper was too slow to clear, allowing Agbonlahor to nip in and round Forster before slotting into the net.
Sadio Mane drew a flying save out of Brad Guzan as Southampton were unable to even the scores before the interval and Koeman began the second half with Dusan Tadic closer to Graziano Pelle in an attempt to penetrate Villa's stubborn defence.
It did little to boost the visitors and they could not find a way into the heart of the Villa defence despite dominating possession. Villa could have doubled their advantage in the 78th minute. Andreas Weimann led a swift counter-attack that resulted in Agbonlahor squaring for the Austrian 12 yards out, but he launched his shot into the Holte End.
Weimann was made to pay for his miss just three minutes later as Clyne’s scorching effort gave Guzan no chance. The point moves Villa up to 16th, but draws against two of the league's in-form sides will boost their confidence, while Southampton's failure to win leaves Chelsea six points clear at the top.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "We've got six players out, including three centre-backs, but the two young lads at centre-half were outstanding, Jores and Ciaran. And Gabby was brilliant all night too. You've got to give Southampton credit, but we deserve some too. It's a big point."
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman: "Yes of course [we can finish fourth], but first we have to play better than we did. Everybody knows that the Premier League is a battle every game and there are big teams but they are struggling as well.
"If we keep going and keep our spirit like we showed - we had great character and we showed great patience in the second half - then it's possible because I don't see many teams better than Southampton. It's a nice week to play and we live game to game with three big teams. In this game Aston Villa had some key players injured, maybe [that made them] are more dangerous and it was difficult.
"We didn't reach the level we can reach and we must reach that to be competitive against [Man] City on Sunday."
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|07 Dec 2014||v Leicester (H)|
|20 Dec 2014||v Man Utd (H)|
|13 Dec 2014||v West Brom (A)|
|02 Dec 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Swansea (A)|