Eyebrows were raised when Adam Lallana was called up to England’s squad by Roy Hodgson for the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine. It was a surprising choice considering the Southampton captain had earned just one cap at Under-21 level back in 2008. The 24-year-old, who was handed the Saints captaincy at the start of the current campaign, has been a key player in helping the south coast club return to the top flight after a seven-year absence. Lallana was part of the Saints side who finished as runners-up in the Youth Cup in 2005 – Theo Walcott, Nathan Dyer, Gareth Bale and Leon Best were his team-mates. He had to wait more patiently than the others for his taste of Premier League football but the midfielder continued his string of impressive displays against Aston Villa. Despite his relatively slight build (he’s 5ft 8in and weighs just over 11 stone) and offensive mindset, the skipper showed a steely side winning two tackles and making three timely interceptions. And unsurprisingly, it was Lallana who inspired Southampton’s comeback. Wide on the right, he outfoxed the opposing left-back to deliver a cross for Rickie Lambert, with the bustling striker sending a rasping effort past Brad Guzan. With Southampton on top, their skipper was in his element, creating five chances for his team-mates as they secured their first win of the season.
Southampton spent a staggering £30m on new signings during the summer transfer window as Nigel Adkins looked to build a squad capable of coping with the demands of Premier League football. A large chunk of that budget went on Gastón Ramírez, who was signed for a club record fee from Serie A outfit Bologna. The Uruguayan started his second game of the season, but on the evidence of Saturday’s showing, he may take a few more matches to settle in at St Mary’s. The 21-year-old showed glimpses of quality, looking to link-up his team-mates and thread intricate passes into the feet of Rickie Lambert. But Adkins has work to do to nurture a partnership between his prolific striker and big-name signing – the pair swapped passes on 17 occasions – and if the Saints manager can get the duo working successfully together, then the newly-promoted side should have the fire power to stave off relegation.
With Southampton trailing 1-0, uncertainty around Adkins’ future as Saints manager looked set to increase following a winless start to their return to the Premier League. The home side showed plenty of adventure in the first half, but lacked any sort of penetration, while defensively, the newly-promoted side succumbed to old demons as a careless pass by Jason Puncheon led to Darren Bent’s opener. But, after the interval, Southampton finally added a cutting edge to their play. Rickie Lambert’s first was a typical finish from the Englishman, before Nathaniel Clyne’s late burst into Villa’s area was perfectly timed as he got on the end of some neat interplay by Ramírez and Rickie Lambert. The Saints, who squandered a 2-1 lead against Manchester United in their previous game at St Mary’s, secured their first three points of the season when Puncheon made amends for his earlier error with a quick turn and finish past Guzan. An inspired second-half display was capped by Rickie Lambert’s stoppage-time penalty.
Villa boss Paul Lambert made the difficult decision to drop former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given to the bench after the 36-year-old’s calamitous error in a 3-1 defeat by Everton in the opening Villa Park fixture this season. The Scot turned to American goalkeeper Guzan, who has spent the past five seasons acting as deputy to Brad Friedel and Given. He impressed against Newcastle and Villa claimed their first win of the season against Swansea last weekend, with Guzan keeping a clean sheet. However, following a comprehensive 4-1 defeat by the Saints, Lambert might opt to recall Given for Villa’s mid-week Capital One Cup clash with Manchester City. Rickie Lambert’s opener was a low and venomous shot but Guzan will have been frustrated to not to have got a stronger palm to the striker’s effort. Matters worsened when Clyne broke past the Villa rearguard and nutmegged the Villa goalkeeper to put the home side in front, while Guzan’s miserable afternoon was compounded when his foul on Emmanuel Mayuka handed Rickie Lambert the chance to net the Saints’ fourth.