ASTON VILLA 1 SOUTHAMPTON 1
SOUTHAMPTON boss Ronald Koeman remains confident his side can maintain their blistering start to the campaign and push for Champions League qualification despite needing a late goal to salvage a point at struggling Aston Villa last night.
Villa skipper Gabriel Agbonlahor punished a mistake from Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster to score with his side’s only effort on target before England full-back Nathaniel Clyne netted late on to stretch Southampton’s unbeaten run to six games.
Southampton have lost just once in 14 matches and Koeman insists his side, which conceded for the first time in 439 minutes, will need to sharpen their attacking potency with games against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United next on the agenda.
“Yes of course [Southampton can remain in the top four],” said Koeman. “If we keep going, if we keep our spirit in the team then I think it is possible as I don’t see many teams better than Southampton. But first we have to play better than we did against Villa but everyone knows the Premier League is a battle every game and there are big teams but they are struggling.
“We didn’t reach our level and the strikers were not on form and we need that to be competitive.”
Villa opened the scoring shortly before the half-hour mark when Saints stopper Forster rushed off his line and misjudged a hopeful punt forward from Ciaran Clark, which allowed
Agbonlahor to nip in and fire into an unguarded net.
Southampton secured their reward inside the final 10 minutes after dominating the second period when rampaging left-back Ryan Bertrand squared for the onrushing Clyne to slot crisply past Villa stopper Brad Guzan.
Villa remain winless since mid-September while last night’s clash was watched by 25,311 – the lowest league crowd for 15 years at Villa Park – although Paul Lambert respected the point gained against such in-form opponents.
“We have six players out which is a lot for us to carry,” said Lambert, who took charge of his 100th Villa game. “Southampton have swept everything before them. The way we played deserved a lot of credit.”