A turbulent week for Aston Villa ended with a valuable point on a largely forgettable afternoon, where the only rays of light came from the sun peering over the top of the Trinity Road stand. This was one of those goalless draws that was every bit as bad as the scoreline suggests.
Villa mustered one shot on target–Marc Albrighton's 25-yard effort in the 63rd minute – and could count themselves fortunate that Southampton were unable to convert possession into goals, and that Lee Mason decided against pointing to the spot 10 minutes from time, when Ryan Bertrand blocked Nathaniel Clyne's cross with his hand. "It's a clear penalty," Mauricio Pochettino, the Southampton manager, said. "It's unexplainable to me why that penalty was not given."
Paul Lambert, who claimed not to have seen the incident, was grateful for small comforts. This result brought to an end a run of four successive league defeats and, in the process, moved Villa five points clear of the relegation zone. "A really tough game," the Villa manager said. "Sometimes in football matches you get big points and you get huge points – that was a huge point considering what has gone on."
Lambert was referring to the club's decision to suspend Ian Culverhouse, the assistant manager, and Gary Karsa, the head of football operations, pending an internal investigation. Gordon Cowans and Shay Given replaced them in the dugout but it would have been asking far too much to expect their presence to transform what happens on the pitch.
Southampton were the much more accomplished team. They had 68% of possession – that figure was even higher at the end of the first half – but the visitors were left to rue their profligacy in the early stages.
Rickie Lambert had two decent chances in the opening five minutes, and Steven Davis – returning to the club where he started his career – was denied by a fine save by Brad Guzan. On the one occasion that Villa looked genuinely dangerous during the first half, Gabriel Agbonlahor sprinted clear, but his dreadful touch let him down.
Villa improved after the interval, although Lambert was stretching it somewhat when he described his team as "excellent". Karim El Ahmadi's tame shot was going wide when Artur Boruc comfortably saved in the 49th minute– that was Villa's first attempt on goal – and Albrighton, the home team's best player, saw his left-foot strike held at the second attempt by the Southampton keeper. That was as good as it got for Villa.
Although Saints started brightly and dominated the first half, they looked like a team with one eye on their summer holidays as the game wore on. Luke Shaw – who was watched by David Moyes – was lively going forward but a golden chance to take the lead was passed up early in the second half, when the left-back's cut-back dropped just behind the unmarked Adam Lallana.