Adam Armstrong's early strike was enough for Southampton to inflict a fifth successive league defeat on Aston Villa and pile pressure on manager Dean Smith.
Barely three minutes into the game, the Saints striker struck a sweet shot into the top corner as Villa made a nightmarish start they wouldn't recover from.
The opening goal set the tone for a one-sided first half as the Saints dominated, but despite creating a host of opportunities, Ralph Hasenhuttl's side were unable to add to the scoreline.
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The visitors had Emi Martinez to thank for keeping out James Ward-Prowse's goal-bound shot with a strong one-handed save, while Stuart Armstrong and Oriol Romeu failed to hit the target from dangerous positions.
Villa - who could have been down to 10 men as early as the 24th-minute when Anwar El Ghazi escaped a second booking for a foul on Tino Livramento - would have been happy to be trailing only 1-0 at the break.
But having matched Southampton's formation, they emerged for the second half as a side reborn, and playing with newly-found freedom and confidence, made a real go of trying to draw level before they tired.
Their best chance fell to Ollie Watkins, who dragged a shot wide of Alex McCarthy's far post.
In the end, Southampton would hold on comfortably to extend their unbeaten run to four games, moving up to 12th in the process. Villa remain 15th but could fall into the relegation zone if results go against them this weekend.

TALKING POINT - The decision not to send off El Ghazi

How Aston Villa finished with all 11 men on the pitch will have heads scratching.
The majority inside the ground and those watching on television will argue that El Ghazi warranted a second booking, but the official was lenient in his decision-making.
Had he been shown his marching orders, it would surely have been a different match. A man short, Smith could not have made the tactical switch at half-time that promoted a vastly improved Villa performance. For the neutral, it made for a much more entertaining game, but you can understand Southampton's angst - they were made to hold on nervously when it could have been so different.
The nerves now belong to Smith, who watched on anxiously from the touchline as his side fell to a fifth straight league defeat. The fanbase is growing incredibly frustrated at the club's dismal - and worrying - form. Does he have enough credit in the bank to save his job? Or will the hierarchy decide to make a change during the international break?

MAN OF THE MATCH - James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)

Snapped into tackles in midfield, covering an incredible amount of ground and caused problems going forward.

PLAYER RATINGS

Southampton: McCarthy 6, Livramento 7, Walker-Peters 8, Bednarek 7, Salisu 7, Elyounoussi 8, Romeu 7, Ward-Prowse 8*, S Armstrong 7, A Armstrong 8, Adams 7.. subs: Lyanco 5, Broja N/A, Diallo 5.
Aston Villa: Martinez 8, Cash 6, Tuanzebe 5, Mings 5, Targett 5, Nakamba 5, McGinn 5, Bailey 4, Buendia 5, El Ghazi 4, Watkins 5. Subs: Archer 5, Davis N/A, J Ramsey 5.

KEY MOMENTS

3' - GOAL! Southampton 1-0 Aston Villa (Adam Armstrong): Lift-off at St Mary's! Ward-Prowse thumps a ball forward, Adams makes a nuisance of himself on the edge of the penalty, it bounces off Cash and falls to Adam Armstrong. Without a second thought, he rifles an unstoppable shot past Martinez!
9' - Miss! Ward-Prowse delivers a corner delivery, it's flicked on to Stuart Armstrong, completely unmarked at the back post. Villa's defence is all over the place! But he takes a wild swipe at the ball and the shot ends up in row-Z.
24' - Lucky boy! El Ghazi, already on a booking, gives the referee a decision to make with a late challenge on Livramento. The free-kick is given but a second card is not forthcoming.
42' - Just over! Adams drives to the by-line and cuts it back to Romeu. He's searching for the top corner as he tries to place his shot but fails to get his angles quite right.
85' - Wide! Watkins has a clear sight of goal but drags his shot wide of the near post he was searching for. That was a decent chance for Villa!

KEY STATS

  • Aston Villa have lost each of their last five Premier League games, their longest losing streak in the competition since April 2016 (a run of 11 straight defeats).
  • Since the start of last season, Adam Armstrong is one of only two English players to score 30+ league goals in England's top two divisions (excluding play-offs), along with Ivan Toney (33).
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