Aston Villa staved off a Southampton fightback as the Premier League’s bottom side earned a valuable 1-1 draw at St Mary’s on Saturday.
A first-half goal against the run of play from Joleon Lescott put Villa on course for what would have been an unlikely victory, but Oriol Romeu’s equaliser 17 minutes from time ensured Ronald Koeman’s side a share of the spoils.
The hosts won last season’s corresponding fixture 6-1, but this time they wasted a string of chances before substitute Romeu eventually made the breakthrough following a corner.
Lescott’s goal – also from a corner – was his first in almost a year and came after the visitors had survived wave after wave of pressure from a quick-starting Southampton side.
Koeman’s men have now gone four games without a win in all competitions, including their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool in the League Cup in midweek.
And although the result saw Villa set a new club record of 14 league games without a win, Remi Garde will have taken plenty of positives from his side’s gutsy display.
With Ciaran Clark suspended and Micah Richards injured, Villa were forced to field a new-look back four and they quickly found themselves under pressure as Southampton created two excellent chances inside the opening five minutes.
Dusan Tadic was involved in both, firing over from close range with the first and then supplying a fine cross from the left that top-scorer Graziano Pelle just failed to convert.
Victor Wanyama was next to threaten the visitors’ goal, heading Tadic’s corner wide of Brad Guzan’s right-hand post.
The one-way traffic continued as Rudy Gestede, back helping out his side’s beleaguered defence, cleared Jose Fonte’s goalbound toe-poke and from the resulting corner, an unmarked Sadio Mane somehow failed to guide his header past Guzan.
The visitors did finally manage to mount a meaningful attack just before the half-hour mark, but Gestede produced an air-shot as he attempted to meet Jordan Veretout’s cross and moments later normal service was restored as Guzan was called upon to keep out a header from Pelle.
It seemed only a matter of time before the hosts made the breakthrough, but instead it was Villa who took a shock lead a minute before the break.
Veretout’s corner was allowed to flash all the way across the six-yard box, eventually finding Lescott who claimed his first goal for the club with the simplest of tap-ins.
If they were stunned to go in trailing at the break, Southampton were clearly fired-up at the start of the second half and came close to equalising almost immediately as Mane rolled Lescott only to shoot narrowly wide.
Having survived that early scare, however, Garde’s men started to assert themselves, creating several decent chances of their own which Jordan Ayew and Lescott were unable to take.
But they had looked vulnerable from set-pieces all afternoon and finally conceded in the 73rd minute when James Ward-Prowse’s corner found Romeu and he steered the ball home from close range.
Koeman’s side then piled on the pressure in the final stages, but the visitors showed huge character to hold firm and claim a potentially vital point.