16/05/2015: Saints 6-1 Aston Villa
Saints ended the home season in style with a 6-1 win over Aston Villa. The hosts were devastating in the first-half and had the game wrapped up before the 20 minute mark. Saints pressed high up the pitch from the first minute, allowing their opponents not a moments rest.
Saints did look slightly nervy early on, but only for five minutes or so. A misplaced pass from Toby Alderweireld in the first minute nearly let Villa in. Saints soon established their composure and created problems for the away side by stretching their high line. Sadio Mane and Shane Long opened up an incredible amount of space with their pace.
Graziano Pelle had the ball in the net on 4, but was incorrectly ruled to be offside. The Italian was then thwarted by Shay Given. The pressure soon told, with Saints taking the lead on 13. Mane showed greater strength in his battle with the Villa defence before rounding Given and slotting in for 1-0.
Mane added a second just over a minute later. Long latched on to a weak backpass before colliding with Given. Mane raced on to the ball and finished from a fairly difficult angle. The wide-man notched the fastest ever top-flight hatrick on 15:16. Long drove forward down the left following some incisive link-up play with Ryan Bertrand. The Irishman squared the ball to the edge of the area for Mane, who planted the into the roof of the net.
Saints continued to pass the ball about quickly and efficiently in the final third. Villa looked vulnerable every time the hosts came forward. James Ward-Prowse was played through, but was stopped by Given after he hesitated on the ball for too long. On 26 Mane turned provider, placing a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of Pelle. His shot was blocked by Given, but Long was there to follow up for 4-0. Long got his second 12 minutes later. He won possession about 40 yards from goal before curling the ball over Given and into the back of the net.
Saints looked more than comfortable going into half-time, but did still concede in stoppage time. Leandro Bacuna floated a deep cross from the right for Christian Benteke, who climbed above Jose Fonte to nod in.
The action simmered down slightly in the second-half. Villa saw a fair bit of the ball without really threatening. The away side tightened up at the back, but Saints were still in control. Most of the second-half chances came from set-pieces. Alderweireld was just inches away from getting on the end of Ward-Prowse's curling free-kick. Substitute Maya Yoshida forced a good save from Given at a corner. Clyne then shot over from Mane's pass.
Saints finally got that second-half goal on 81. Mane combined well with Filip Djuricic before crossing for Pelle, who hooked the ball high and into the net. Villa had a couple of chances to reduce the deficit. Paulo Gazzaniga saved well from Gabby Agbonlahor towards the end of the game.
The perfect way to see out 2014/15 at St Mary's. The crowd was sent home happy and Saints remain in contention for a top five spot with a game to go. The odds might not be in our favour, but we still have a chance to overtake both Tottenham and Liverpool. For all the missed opportunities in recent months, that's still an excellent achievement. Saints have looked toothless in attack recently, but they were anything but against Aston Villa. Pelle, Mane and Long combined to devastating effect. Saints needed this win, not only for this season, but also to go into the summer in a positive frame of mind. It'll be tough to replicate this season's success, but Saints have players who should improve with another year under their belt. More performances like this one would be welcome.
Gazzaniga: 7. Made some good claims and one good save towards the end of the game
Clyne: 7. A bit sluggish in spells, but overall a decent outing
Fonte: 7. Made some good runs out from the back and always looked comfortable in defence
Alderweireld: 7. A couple of sloppy passes, but overall pretty good. Put in some solid work at the back
Bertrand: 7. Started several counters with his quick feet and rapid change of pace
Wanyama: 7. Made it look easy. Won the ball back on plenty of occasions
Davis: 7. A solid showing, his best in weeks
Ward-Prowse: 8. Made a difference. Added dynamism to the midfield as well as the predictably excellent delivery
Mane: 10. An incredible performance. Three goals and two assists. Aggressive play rattled Villa all game
Pelle: 8. Deserved his goal for all the work he put in. A big presence in the penalty area in the air and on the ground
Long: 9. Speed and movement excellent. Linked-up superbly with Mane and Pelle
Yoshida: 6. Decent cameo. Unlucky not to score
Djuricic: Had a role in the final goal
Elia: Made a few strong runs down the left
Saints - Mane (13, 14, 16) Long (26, 38) Pelle (81)
Aston Villa - Benteke (45)
Attendance - 31,636 (3,235 Aston Villa fans)
Referee - Robert Madley
Saints: Gazzaniga, Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand, Wanyama, S Davis (Yoshida 72), Ward-Prowse (Djuricic 80), Mane, Long, Pelle (Elia 85)
Subs not used: K Davis, Gardos, Targett, Reed
Aston Villa: Given, Bacuna (Lowton 67), Okore, Vlaar, Hutton, Cleverley, Westwood, Delph, Grealish (Sinclair 82), N'Zogbia (Agbonlahor 57), Benteke
Subs not used: Guzan, Senderos, Sanchez, Weimann