With much at stake for both sides, most expected an exciting game at St. Mary’s. Unfortunately, the excitement was very much one-sided.
A few eyebrows were raised when the travelling fans learned that Hutton had been recalled to play at left-back in place of the injured Richardson. Like his team-mates, Hutton would have an afternoon to forget.
The hosts thought they had opened the scoring after four minutes. However, Pelle was flagged for offside, with Long a yard ahead of the last Villa defender.
After eleven minutes, Benteke had the chance to put the visiting Villans ahead when he collected Delph’s through ball on the left but, trying to be clever, the Belgian poked his shot wide and into the side netting.
Two minutes later, the massacre began. Given smothered Mane’s initial shot but the ball ricocheted off the striker, who pounced on the loose ball and slotted home into an empty net.
A panicking Vlaar’s back pass then found Long, whose shot was saved by Given before falling kindly to his team-mate Mane, who wasted no time in bagging his brace.
Incredibly, Mane wasn’t done yet and, helped by the opposition giving his side acres of space, soon recorded the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history (2 minutes and 56 seconds) when, from Long’s cut-back, he lashed the ball into the top right-hand corner.
With the Villa defence in pieces, the chants of “We’re gonna win 4-3” were outrageously optimistic.
Every effort made by the Villans was in vain. Even a promising ball into the box from Hutton simply allowed the Saints to break. Given, who had done little wrong but was having no luck, came off his line to block Pelle’s shot but the ball slipped wide to Long, who buried it in the unmanned net in the twenty-sixth minute.
With Bacuna and Okore having dozed off, life was all too easy for the Saints, who left the Villans in need of a miracle.
Daydreaming and dallying too long on the ball, Westwood was dispossessed by Long in the centre circle. What followed next was a stunning goal as the striker stepped forward and unleashed the ball up and over Given from forty yards out.
The home support sang, ‘Are you Sunderland in disguise?’ No doubt the Villa manager had a few questions of his own but the stunned Sherwood could simply hold his head in his hands, as a steady stream of Villans made for the exits.
After forty-two minutes of a dismal Villa display, Sherwood’s shambolic side registered its first attempt on target, courtesy of Hutton. Sadly, it went straight to Gazzaniga.
In the final of the three minutes of injury time, Bacuna’s cracking cross to the far post enabled Benteke to plant a header in the top left-hand corner of Gazzaniga’s goal but it was scant consolation for the claret and blue capitulation.
The Saints continued to attack, leaving Given to save from Yoshida at point-blank range.
Within seventeen seconds of the restart, it appeared the rout wasn’t over when the Saints released Long on goal. However, he was correctly flagged offside.
The Villans enjoyed much more possession in the second half, which was so dull compared to the first that the fancy dress conga line proved more entertaining than the action on the pitch.
After fifty-six minutes, Sherwood swapped N’Zogbia for Agbonlahor.
Hutton then half-heartedly shot from just outside the box, blazing the ball over the bar, when he had options in the middle.
Just after the hour mark, Long flashed a volley wide from the edge of the area.
After that, the visitors enjoyed a decent spell of possession and passing but, intent on defending, they lacked anything noteworthy in the final third. Even though foul after foul on Grealish led to numerous free-kicks, the away team was proving impotent.
Lowton replaced Bacuna after sixty-seven minutes.
After seventy-three minutes, a glum Given did well to save Yoshida’s header at point-blank range in his bottom left-hand corner.
Showing more defensive solidity than in the first, the Villans navigated the calmer seas of the second half with only Pelle’s eighy-first minute thunderous goal against them, which came as a result of, once again, allowing the hosts far too much space.
Sherwood then made his final switch, sending Sinclair on in place of Grealish.
As the conga line snaked around the stands, the away side put a good move together before Agbonlahor aimed his shot straight at Gazzaniga.
Every pass made by the visitors was then ironically cheered until the whistle went.
Speaking post-match, Sherwood stated:
“It was unrecognisable to the team we know we can be in the first period, but credit to Southampton. They punished every single mistake we made – and there were a few. It’s not only defenders. The whole team are in it together, including me. I take responsibility for that. That is one bad forty-five minutes they have given me since I have been at the club.
We have to win a game next week and then a Cup final so there is no point in me stripping paint off them. They know they haven’t played well in that first period, I know that, an idiot knows that. It wasn’t good enough and we just feel sorry for our fans.”