Steven Gerrard had stated his wish for Aston Villa to produce a performance that would make Prince William proud and while it was a game that made grim viewing and one that will not live long in the memory, the result will have been gratefully received by all of those of a Villa persuasion.
“He probably already knows the result, knowing him,” Gerrard said an hour after the final whistle, before revealing the Queen’s grandson sent a message to his squad in the week.
“It was along the lines of ‘would love to be there’ but everyone understands his situation. He is consistently in touch. He is very supportive of the boys individually – he loves them – and I’ve spoke to him about them all.”
In truth, Prince William did not miss much. Even the five minutes of second-half stoppage time were greeted with a communal groan. Villa hardly blew Southampton away but for Gerrard, who spent the tail end of this game nibbling at his fingernails, this was a victory and a welcome clean sheet, their first since April, that will have done wonders.
After earning a point against Manchester City in their last game, Jacob Ramsey’s first-half strike was sufficient to earn Villa only their second league win of the season and soothe the pre-match pressure.
After the final whistle Tyrone Mings unravelled the tape from his wrists, John McGinn, fresh from applauding the Holte End, gave his captain’s armband to a delighted young supporter and Gerrard legged it down the tunnel, the relief still seeping out of the Villa manager.
Ralph Hasenhüttl had shared his love for this ground and the emotions it evokes as a grand old stadium and before kick-off Villa Park basked in all its glory.
Both managers led their teams out on to the pitch before standing on the edge of the centre circle for an impeccable minute’s silence and the national anthem. “To sing the song, the hairs on your neck are standing up,” Gerrard said. “It felt special. I felt proud, I was reminiscing about my England days, about the MBE, meeting the Queen and I was going back to my personal engagements with the royal family.”
The fare did not live up to much. Villa seemed to be strangled by anxiety until Ramsey struck four minutes before the interval. The goal stemmed from the game’s first effort on target, when Philippe Coutinho’s tame downward header was kept out by Gavin Bazunu. The Southampton goalkeeper was about to be thrust into the thick of the action. Bazunu managed to tip Ollie Watkins’s glanced header from Coutinho’s cross following a short corner on to the frame of his goal but Ramsey was on hand in the box to welly in off the underside of the crossbar after Mohammed Salisu inadvertently nudged a failed clearance into his path. Hasenhüttl combed his hand through his hair in frustration.
Southampton were harmless and Hasenhüttl was irritated by their failure to work the Villa goalkeeper Emi Martínez, who missed training on Thursday owing to injury. Hasenhüttl made a double substitution at half-time – including a debut for 18-year-old left-back Juan Larios – and Southampton’s sole effort on goal was a weak header late on by the substitute Sekou Mara, which looped into the gloves of Martínez. “We were not good enough on the ball to create something seriously,” Hasenhüttl said.
“It seemed to be after the first two or three duels we were a little bit anxious and not brave enough to keep on going. We didn’t need much to struggle today.”
Hasenhüttl could only puff his cheeks at the end of a game that he conceded was rarely befitting of the level. McGinn’s impromptu wrestling match with Moussa Djenepo on halfway 10 minutes from time was a highlight in a desperate and, at times, comical game but the moment of the match arguably arrived in the 70th minute when supporters from all sides launched into a chorus of God Save the Queen, as her picture was displayed on the big screen.
Villa were not exactly free-flowing but Southampton were subpar and will want to forget this game in a hurry.
They are not the only ones. “If I was watching on the television I would’ve turned it off,” McGinn said. “We graft week in, week out but it’s a waste if we don’t perform at the weekend. We are not clicking and creating enough chances but, when we got the goal, we stayed strong.
“We limited them to few chances and it’s a huge win going into the international break. I was dreading going up to Scotland with a draw or a defeat so it will make the drive up a bit sweeter.”