Southampton recorded a much-needed Premier League win before Christmas as they ran out 3-1 winners at Aston Villa.
Heading into this weekend’s showdown at Villa Park the Saints had suffered back-to-back league defeats leaving plummeting them into the relegation zone albeit level on points with today’s opponents.
Only a superior goal-difference ensured Dean Smith’s men weren’t in the bottom three. However, that has since changed with this result, as both swapped positions ahead of the busy festive period.
At the centre of it all was none other than Southampton’s man man Danny Ings whose brace saw him become just the third Saints player to reach double figures in a Premier League season before Christmas, he’d follow in the footsteps of club legend Matt Le Tissier (1994/95) and James Beattie (2002/03).
To call them a one-man club would be a tad unfair, but Ings is now responsible for 52.3% of their league goals (11/21) this term. Such dependency, as long as he remains fit and their defence hold up, could be enough to secure another season in English football’s top division.
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 21, 2019
The former Liverpool marksman had until today seen his recent efforts go wasted as Southampton would either snatch a draw or defeat from the jaws of victory. Given where they are in the table, nothing is smoothly done, a stunning Jack Grealish effort deep into the second half prevented them from recording a first league clean sheet since September 14 when they’d leave Sheffield United with a slender 1-0 success.
Spare a thought for Saints vanquished foe, this six-pointer couldn’t have started any worse for Villa who lost influential midfielder John McGinn before the match was even ten minutes old. McGinn, who not long ago was linked with a January move to Manchester United, had in recent weeks been playing through a groin injury.
It seemed enough was enough when he signalled to Smith’s coaching staff that he would be unable to continue. A massive blow for today and beyond as Villa must now potentially navigate three league games – Norwich City (home), Watford (away) and Burnley (away) – across seven days without his services.
A quick glance at those fixtures and you’d assume they’re aiming for at least seven points given two of those clubs are below them in the championship table. Having the presence of McGinn would have made their challenge stronger.
He’s been, without a shadow of a doubt, Villa’s most impressive performer alongside Villa skipper Grealish whom he’s forged an electric partnership with. From an individual standpoint the 25-year-old Scottish international is one of two Premier League players (alongside Everton forward Richarlison) to register 30+ shots (30), fouls won (40), tackles made (45) and take-ons completed (42).
McGinn’s explosive off-the-ball dynamism, which subsequently makes him extremely difficult to mark, explains these incredible figures. His innate ability to bypassing Villa’s lone centre-forward nominaly Brazilian centre-forward Wesley, turns him into a serious goal threat and problem for the opposition. So far, only the aforementioned Grealish (5) has outscored McGinn (3).
Seeing him come off undoubtedly boosted the Saints players and their under-fire boss Ralph Hasenhüttl who would have earmarked McGinn as someone to keep a close eye on. The pendulum swung into the visitors favour and they immediately seized their chance moments later when Tom Heaton could only parry a save from Shane Long into the path of Ings.
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With the hosts scrambling, Southampton doubled their lead, Jack Stephens heading James Ward-Prowse’s corner beyond Heaton, for the second consecutive league game Villa had conceded twice before the half-time interval. Ings, six minutes after the break, doubled his tally for the afternoon. He wouldn’t be able to register a first hat-trick for the south coast outfit.
McGinn’s presence wouldn’t have prevented those goals, but they lacked something without him on the pitch. It remains to be seen how severe this latest injury is and how they’ll cope in the choppy waters coming over the horizon. As for Southampton, they’ve got one of the league’s most in-form strikers on their books. Having matched his best return in a single Premier League campaign one wonders if he’s thinking about earning a second England cap.
What happened in the rest of the Premier League’s 3PM kick-offs?
Newcastle Utd 1-0 Crystal Palace means the Magpies will spend Christmas in the top half of the table. They were 15th and eight points worse off under Rafa Benitez at this stage last season.
Norwich City 1-2 Wolves, in which Joao Moutinho assisted from a corner, his eighth since the beginning of last season more than any Premier League player.
Brighton 0-1 Sheffield United saw Oli McBurnie score his first Premier League away goal ensuring the Blades remain unbeaten in their opening nine games on the road, only the second newly-promoted top-flight side to achieve this after Burnley in 1947/48.
Bournemouth 0-1 Burnley, a late Jay Rodriguez goal maintained Burnley’s record of consecutive matches scored against the Cherries, it now stands at 11.