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Depleted Villa denied by Clyne as Southampton run continues

With club captain Ron Vlaar, centre back partner Philippe Senderos, key midfielder Fabian Delph and star striker Christian Benteke all missing, you would’ve thought Aston Villa’s home game against Southampton was a mere formality for the visitors. Think again.

Despite a spine shattered by injury and suspension, plus Paul Lambert’s side being the lowest Premier League scorers after one goal in seven (picking up just one point as a result), and Saints boasting the best defence, Villa got a draw. They are now 11/4 with Coral to be relegated.

Ronald Koeman’s south coast club were on a roll going into what looked an away banker on paper, but the momentum of 11 wins in 12 across all competitions was checked somewhat in the West Midlands.

Lambert sent Villa out with a clear, compact game plan to spring on the counter. All this was in evidence through Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose pace was the hosts’ only out-ball. In one such instance just before half an hour, he profited from Fraser Forster’s hesitancy and rounded the Saints stopper to give the hosts an advantage.

Villa needed number one Brad Guzan to be at his best to preserve their slender lead, however, with Southampton well on top in the first 45. A plunging palm from the American goalie kept out Sadio Mane’s curling effort when set up by fellow Koeman summer signing Dusan Tadic.

This clear sight of the home goal and another second half effort right across the face apart, Lambert’s defence stood strong to the test offered by Graziano Pelle with Shane Long operating off him.

Ciaran Clark marshalled superbly, and the Republic of Ireland international complemented Ivorian-born Danish defender Jores Okore, starting his first Villa game for 14 months after a serious knee injury, well.

Sadly they couldn’t hold out, leaving Lambert to rue Andreas Weimann skying another counter-attack effort after he interchanged with Agbonlahor. Moments later, one Saints full back found another as Ryan Bertrand pulled back for Nathaniel Clyne, hot off his impressive England debut, who rifled home to snatch a draw.

Acid tests of Southampton’s top four credentials (7/4) follow what will be viewed as two points dropped. Koeman must contend with Premier League champions Manchester City, perpetual Champions League qualifiers Arsenal and Manchester United consecutively in a difficult start to December.

It should be noted, however, the Saints have hosting duties for the two Manchester teams. City come to St Mary’s off the back of a win or bust European battle with Bayern Munich. The real winners, both here at Villa Park and from Koeman’s next assignment, could be champions-elect Chelsea, though.