Truly a story of two halves, a disappointing first forty five minutes gave way to a second half that produced four goals, our first win of the season and a glorious vindication of Nigel Adkins' management.
Rickie Lambert once again played a staring role in a superb team performance
Gaston Ramirez, Maya Yoshida and Paulo Gazzaniga made their home debuts with James Ward-Prowse and Kelvin Davis dropped to the bench. Saints looked to start the game well with our usual possession play allowing us to create chances. A long range shot from Gaston Ramirez fired a warning across Villa's bow but it became clear that we lacked a definitive cutting edge as the half went on. A cross from Jason Puncheon found Rickie Lambert at the far post but his ball back in seemed to float in the air forever before eventually finding Adam Lallana, with his back to goal and under heavy pressure from two defenders his ambitious overhead kick tamely found it's way into Guzan's grateful hands. Villa's defensive shape was keeping us clearly at bay.
Aston Villa, with their first clear chance took the lead. After failing to clear our lines from Barry Bannan's cross Stephen Ireland delivered a through ball right between Danny Fox and Yoshida. Darren Bent made the run in front of Fox and with all the space he needed after evading his man Darren Bent fired in from a couple of yards in front of goal. It seemed all too familiar after last week as our centre back pairing and newly drafted goalkeeper were caught ball watching.
Nigel Adkins made a key change at the break, Danny Fox was substituted for last season's mainstay at right back Frazer Richardson. Richardson immediately acquited himself in his natural position as Nathaniel Clyne took over at left back from Fox.
Looking to make ammends Saints pushed forward in the second half. Jason Puncheon created the first notable chance, his surging run into the box produced a sharp save at Guzan's near post. Aston Villa however spurned a golden opportunity to go two ahead soon after. Ex Genk striker Benteke fired a searing pass behind our defence as Villa launched a counter attack. Darren Bent ran through on goal and received the ball inside our penalty area. Paulo Gazzaniga, reading the danger quickly closed down the angle of Bent's opportunity and stood tall to block the shot wide for a corner. Gazzaniga in truth had little to do through the game but nontheless made an extremely assured debut in the home goal, he showed safe hands and an excellent command of his penalty area when required.
It was Benteke's turn to miss a chance shortly after as his powerful header from a corner crept just past the top left corner of the home goal, it was to be a turning point of the match as Saints at long last went on to find their feet in the final third.
After Fonte cleared from a spell of Villa possession Adam Lallana surged forward down the right wing, his deep cross found Rickie Lambert on the edge of the area. With his first touch from the chest he laid the ball across the Villa defence, his second touch steadied the ball and on his third he turned towards goal and unleashed a fierce strike towards the bottom left hand corner of the Villa net. Guzan's outstretched hand was not enough to divert the shot and St Mary's errupted with joy as Rickie Lambert celebrated his third goal of the season.
It was soon to get even better for Saints, Nathaniel Clyne had enjoyed an impressive half on the left hand side of defence, his defensive cover perfectly complimenting the attacking threat he was also looking to provide. Just five minutes after Lambert's equaliser a beautiful run after laying the ball to Rickie Lambert led to Clyne running through a gap in the Villa defense towards goal. Gaston Ramirez, who had looked worth every penny of his 12 million pound fee flicked the ball over the Villa back four and straight into Clyne's path. At close range Nathaniel tapped the ball past Guzan into the net to score his first goal for the club and put Saints ahead.
Now in the lead Saints looked every part the Premier League side. Comfortable in possession and dangerous going forward we looked to make the day even worse for the claret and blue half of Birmingham. Jason Puncheon's cut inside from the right wing and shot sending an omen of further things to come for Paul Lambert's side.
Puncheon's time was to come though, Ramirez began the attack by teeing up Lambert down the left wing. Proving that he is not just a simple target man, Rickie surged forward down the flank towards the left hand corner, hiecleverly played the ball into Jason Puncheon who had made a superb supporting run into the box. After turning inside at the left hand sie of the 6 yard box, Puncheon steadied himself an fired the ball towards goal. A deflection from Ciaran Clark saw the ball fly straight into the top right corner of the net, it was a deserved goal for Puncheon who is now beginning to look every inch the Premier League player he believes he is.
Towards the end Emmanuel Mayuka came on for Puncheon, the substitute showed promising pace on the Villa back line, twice making runs onto through balls, once being caught offside and the other time in vain as the ball ran too far for him. The third time was the charm for Mayuka though as he ran onto the ball, one-on-one with Guzan his first touch took the ball past the american who dived in and felled the Zambian. The resulting penalty led to an innevitable conversion from Rickie Lambert.
The penalty was the final action of the game, a mixture of relief and joy spread through the crowd, it was our first top flight win since the 4-3 thriller against Norwich back in April 2005 and thoroughly deserved revenge for the 2-3 Villa win that occured just two weeks previously to that.
Saints: Gazzaniga, Fox (Richardson, 45), Clyne, Yoshida, Fonte, Schneiderlin, Davis (Ward-Prowse, 79), Puncheon (Mayuka, 74), Lallana, Ramirez, Lambert
Unused Substitutes: Davis, Seaborne, Do Prado, Rodriguez
Aston Villa: Guzan, Vlaar, Clark, Lichaj (Bennett, 68.), Lowton, Ireland (Westwood, 46), El Ahmedi, Bannan (Agbonlahor, 68.), Holman, Benteke, Bent
Unused Substitutes: Given, N'Zogbia, Bowery, Weimann
Lambert, 90 +5