Aston Villa and the Saturday night special

Villa win at Southampton. Dave Woodhall has a later night than he’d like.

Back in the days when football was a spectator sport, the time I used to most hate games being moved to was the Saturday evening slot, because that was the one that always seemed targeted squarely at the armchair fans. After all, if I’d just watched the Villa, the last thing I’d usually want to see back then would be any more football.

But times have changed, and if nothing else at least a Saturday 8pm kick-off in Southampton didn’t mean any problems for supporters getting home after the match. An unchanged team, with new signing Morgan Sanson on the bench, and Villa were looking to get over recent away results and stay in touch with the top six contenders – one advantage of this kick-off time is that you know what everyone else has done today and on the whole results went well for us.

Southampton’s claims for an early penalty were turned down, so naturally VAR is a wonderful thing, and although Villa were on the defensive for much of the first half the team defended well and broke dangerously. Four minutes to half time and the most dangerous break of the lot came to a conclusion with an inch-perfect cross from Jack Grealish and an equally well-timed run from Ross Barkley. Not only was his movement superb, but the way he placed his header was as good as any striker could have managed – back across goal to give the keeper no chance.

Villa didn’t have too much of the ball in the second half, either, but that gave the opportunity to show that not only do we have the best outfield player in the country on current form, we might well have the best goalkeeper as well. Grealish and Emiliano Martinez can fight it out for the man of the match award and it wouldn’t like to choose between them.

Eventually, Southampton did get the ball in the net and although the reason for their goal being disallowed might be ridiculous, that’s the rule and it’s about time we got away with one. That it came so close to the end of the match just added a bit of drama for the viewing public; we do like to send ’em away wanting more.

I said on Wednesday night that we’ll play worse and win, and we didn’t have to wait long for that to happen. In fact, you could argue that we were playing better against Southampton at home when we were four-nil down. It was a win that owed more to grit than glamour but they all count and that’s three more points towards a European push or safety, depending on how used you are to the Villa letting you down.

Whichever way you might choose to look at it, those three points give us our best halfway total since 2010. That season we finished sixth and the manager left during the summer. A repeat of one is still a long shot but you never know, while the other is a very remote possibility. But one thing is certain – if the second half of the season gives us as much excitement as the first, we’re in for a few special occasions no matter what time they kick off.