Aston Villa slipped into the bottom three in controversial circumstances as Jay Rodriguez's blatant first-half dive helped Southampton to a valuable win.

Top scorer Rickie Lambert swept home from the penalty spot after the £7m summer signing went down without contact from Enda Stevens in the area.

Villa rallied after the break and went closest to an equaliser when Nathan Baker headed onto the crossbar.

The result saw the Saints leapfrog Villa and move clear of the drop zone.

The winter months have not been kind to Villa's inexperienced side, and the embarrassing midweek League Cup semi-final first-leg defeat to Bradford was their fourth in seven games in all competitions.

Rodriguez did not dive - Southampton boss Adkins

While Villa's slide down the Premier League table had seen them take only 10 points from their last 11 fixtures, Nigel Adkins's ever-improving Southampton outfit came to Villa Park on the back of only two losses in 10 league games.

Despite the disparity in recent form, Villa started the brighter and forced a number of corners as giant centre-forward Christian Benteke repeatedly pressured the slight figure of visiting right-back Nathaniel Clyne.

Villa's problems have been exacerbated by a long dry spell in front of goal - they had only scored seven times in their last 10 league matches - and again they were unable to turn momentum into chances.

Saints' six-pointers

  • 25 August: Southampton 0-2 Wigan
  • 22 September: Southampton 4-1 Aston Villa
  • 17 November: QPR 1-3 Southampton
  • 25 November: Southampton 2-0 Newcastle
  • 8 December: Southampton 1-0 Reading
  • 12 January: Aston Villa 0-1 Southampton

Southampton's superior confidence on the ball then started to show and Rodriguez should have done better after he was smartly played into space on the right wing by Lambert but his control at pace let him down in the area and he could only scuff a weak pass into goalkeeper Brad Guzman's arms.

Referee Mark Halsey had earlier angered the Southampton bench by failing to punish a high challenge from Stevens on Gaston Ramirez and a flailing elbow from Benteke on Maya Yoshida, but the game's key officiating decision came in the 33rd minute when he pointed to the spot after Rodriguez tumbled in the area.

While the furious Villa players raced to question Halsey's call, Rodriguez attempted to plead his innocence by mouthing: "I did not dive."

Southampton's winner against Aston Villa was a stonewall penalty, says Rickie Lambert

Lambert, who joined joined Southampton for £1m in 2009, then stepped up to send Guzan the wrong way and retain his perfect penalty record for the club.

Villa manager Paul Lambert took off the ineffectual Brett Holman at half-time and switched to a 4-4-2 formation, and his decision led to a much improved performance.

Benteke should have scored his 10th goal of the season after he picked up on goalkeeper Artur Boruc's dangerous parry from Stevens' 25-yard effort but the Belgium international could only side-foot his effort over the crossbar.

The previously invisible Charles N'Zogbia then struck a firm low drive into the Pole's arms, though Southampton's dangerous attacking options came to the fore once again as the exciting Jason Puncheon struck the base of the post after cutting inside from the right.

Villa continued to push for a vital leveller and again Benteke was the man at the centre of things. First, he smartly twisted into space on the edge of the area before firing a wild effort wide with his left foot , then a more measured curling effort with his favoured right went inches beyond the post.

A desperate late rally went to no avail as Baker hit the woodwork for Villa before Benteke and substitute Jordan Bowery failed to find the target with close-range efforts.

While Wigan's draw at Fulham pushed Villa into the bottom-three, Southampton's resilience was rewarded with a fifth win in six games against their fellow strugglers.

Lineup, Bookings (2) & Substitutions (6)

Aston Villa

  • 22 Guzan
  • 06 Clark
  • 29 Stevens
  • 32 Baker
  • 34 Lowton
  • 10 N'Zogbia (Agbonlahor - 62' )
  • 15 Westwood (Bowery - 78' )
  • 16 Delph
  • 14 Holman (Bannan - 46' )
  • 20 Benteke
  • 26 Weimann Booked

Substitutes

  • 33 Marshall
  • 04 Vlaar
  • 30 Lichaj
  • 07 Ireland
  • 25 Bannan
  • 11 Agbonlahor
  • 21 Bowery

Southampton

  • 31 Boruc Booked
  • 02 Clyne
  • 03 Yoshida
  • 05 Hooiveld
  • 23 Shaw (De Ridder - 86' )
  • 04 Schneiderlin
  • 10 Ramirez (Fox - 76' )
  • 18 Cork
  • 42 Puncheon (S Davis - 82' )
  • 07 Lambert
  • 09 Rodriguez

Substitutes

  • 01 K Davis
  • 13 Fox
  • 25 Seaborne
  • 08 S Davis
  • 16 Ward-Prowse
  • 33 De Ridder
  • 19 Lee
Ref: Halsey
Att: 32,500

Match Stats

Shots

16 11

On target

10 4

Corners

9 5

Fouls

9 6

Live Text Commentary

90:00 +5:59 Full time

Full Time The referee signals the end of the game.

90:00 +5:18

Steven Davis takes a shot. Save by Bradley Guzan.

90:00 +4:10 Booking

Booking Andreas Weimann shown a yellow card.

90:00 +2:45

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Steve De Ridder by Barry Bannan. Free kick taken by Daniel Fox.

90:00 +1:05 Booking

Booking The referee books Artur Boruc for time wasting.

90:00 +0:31

Effort from deep inside the area by Christian Benteke misses to the right of the goal.

89:45

Jordan Bowery takes a shot. Blocked by Maya Yoshida. Inswinging corner taken by Barry Bannan, Jos Hooiveld makes a clearance.

88:34

Inswinging corner taken by Barry Bannan, Nathan Baker takes a shot.

87:39

A cross is delivered by Enda Stevens, Christian Benteke takes a shot. Save by Artur Boruc. Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Barry Bannan.

85:51 Substitution

Substitution Steve De Ridder replaces Luke Shaw.

82:13

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Christian Benteke by Maya Yoshida. A cross is delivered by Barry Bannan, Christian Benteke takes a shot. Artur Boruc makes a comfortable save.

81:23 Substitution

Substitution Steven Davis replaces Jason Puncheon.

80:32

Rickie Lambert fouled by Ciaran Clark, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick crossed left-footed by Daniel Fox from left channel.

79:23

The ball is crossed by Enda Stevens, clearance by Jos Hooiveld.

78:29

Christian Benteke produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that goes wide right of the target.

77:12 Substitution

Substitution (Aston Villa) makes a substitution, with Jordan Bowery coming on for Ashley Westwood.

77:12

Christian Benteke produces a left-footed shot from just outside the penalty box that goes wide left of the target.

76:13

Inswinging corner taken by Morgan Schneiderlin, Header on goal by Maya Yoshida from inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.

75:50 Substitution

Substitution Daniel Fox replaces Gaston Ramirez.

75:26

Jason Puncheon takes a shot. Blocked by Enda Stevens.

74:48

Drilled right-footed shot by Morgan Schneiderlin. Save by Bradley Guzan.

74:18

The ball is sent over by Andreas Weimann, Artur Boruc makes a comfortable save.

69:56

Morgan Schneiderlin challenges Enda Stevens unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed by Barry Bannan, free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gaston Ramirez by Ciaran Clark. Free kick taken by Artur Boruc.

68:51

The official flags Rickie Lambert offside. Bradley Guzan takes the indirect free kick.

66:02

The ball is crossed by Luke Shaw.

65:24

Matthew Lowton produces a cross, Maya Yoshida makes a clearance.

63:59

Free kick awarded for a foul by Christian Benteke on Jack Cork. Maya Yoshida takes the free kick.

62:34

The ball is swung over by Jason Puncheon.

61:31 Substitution

Substitution Gabriel Agbonlahor on for Charles N'Zogbia.

61:07

Charles N'Zogbia takes a shot. Comfortable save by Artur Boruc.

60:44

Shot by Jay Rodriguez. Save made by Bradley Guzan.

59:26

Corner from the left by-line taken by Morgan Schneiderlin, Ashley Westwood manages to make a clearance.

59:16

Centre by Luke Shaw, Matthew Lowton gets a block in.

58:17

The ball is delivered by Charles N'Zogbia, clearance by Maya Yoshida.

57:44

Corner taken by Charles N'Zogbia from the right by-line played to the near post, Jack Cork makes a clearance.

57:17

Centre by Fabian Delph, Maya Yoshida makes a clearance.

52:40

Jason Puncheon concedes a free kick for a foul on Enda Stevens. Centre by Barry Bannan, Christian Benteke takes a shot. Save by Artur Boruc.

51:28

Enda Stevens has a drilled shot. Artur Boruc makes a save. Close range strike by Christian Benteke goes over the bar.

49:46

Jay Rodriguez sends in a cross.

49:08

Andreas Weimann takes the chance to get an effort at goal. Save by Artur Boruc.

47:00

Centre by Jason Puncheon, Enda Stevens manages to make a clearance.

45:01

The referee gets the second half underway.

45:01 Substitution

Substitution Brett Holman leaves the field to be replaced by Barry Bannan.

45:00 +1:01 Half time

Half Time The players leave the pitch at half time.

45:00 +0:01

The ball is delivered by Brett Holman.

44:16

Jay Rodriguez has an effort at goal from long distance that goes wide left.

43:43

A cross is delivered by Gaston Ramirez.

43:07

Luke Shaw takes a shot. Save by Bradley Guzan. Short corner taken by Morgan Schneiderlin.

41:42

Jack Cork produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the goal.

40:55

Gaston Ramirez takes a inswinging corner from the right by-line played to the near post. A cross is delivered by Gaston Ramirez.

40:07

Christian Benteke is ruled offside. Indirect free kick taken by Artur Boruc.

37:57

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Christian Benteke by Jos Hooiveld. Enda Stevens takes the indirect free kick.

37:49

The ball is swung over by Nathaniel Clyne.

36:26

Corner taken right-footed by Ashley Westwood, Artur Boruc makes a save.

35:54

Brett Holman takes a shot. Morgan Schneiderlin gets a block in.

33:46

Assist on the goal came from Jay Rodriguez.

33:46 Goal scored

Goal! - Rickie Lambert - A Villa 0 - 1 Southamp'n Rickie Lambert scores a placed penalty. Aston Villa 0-1 Southampton.

32:53

Jay Rodriguez fouled by Enda Stevens, the ref awards a Penalty.

31:59

Charles N'Zogbia takes a shot. Jos Hooiveld gets a block in. Corner taken left-footed by Charles N'Zogbia, Jay Rodriguez makes a clearance.

30:31

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Rickie Lambert by Enda Stevens. Gaston Ramirez crosses the ball from the free kick left-footed from right wing.

29:25

Effort on goal by Jason Puncheon from deep inside the area goes harmlessly over the bar.

27:14

Luke Shaw has an effort at goal from outside the box which goes wide right of the target.

26:42

The ball is sent over by Nathaniel Clyne, Ciaran Clark manages to make a clearance.

24:44

Corner taken left-footed by Charles N'Zogbia, clearance by Morgan Schneiderlin.

23:10

A cross is delivered by Gaston Ramirez, Nathan Baker makes a clearance.

21:48

Jason Puncheon crosses the ball, Jay Rodriguez has a headed effort at goal from close range which goes wide of the left-hand upright.

21:31

Luke Shaw sends in a cross, clearance by Fabian Delph.

19:31

The official flags Andreas Weimann offside. Artur Boruc takes the free kick.

18:35

Luke Shaw fouled by Charles N'Zogbia, the ref awards a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Artur Boruc.

17:12

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gaston Ramirez by Charles N'Zogbia. Jos Hooiveld takes the indirect free kick.

14:09

A cross is delivered by Luke Shaw, clearance by Ciaran Clark.

11:52

The referee blows for offside against Andreas Weimann. Free kick taken by Artur Boruc.

10:06

Jason Puncheon gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Enda Stevens. Free kick taken by Fabian Delph.

8:55

Charles N'Zogbia concedes a free kick for a foul on Luke Shaw. Free kick crossed by Morgan Schneiderlin, save made by Bradley Guzan.

6:35

Indirect free kick taken by Maya Yoshida.

4:34

Christian Benteke takes a shot. Blocked by Jos Hooiveld. Corner taken by Charles N'Zogbia from the right by-line, Rickie Lambert makes a clearance. Charles N'Zogbia has an effort at goal from just inside the box that misses to the right of the target.

3:26

Corner taken left-footed by Charles N'Zogbia to the near post, clearance by Rickie Lambert.

2:32

Corner taken by Gaston Ramirez from the right by-line played to the near post, Andreas Weimann manages to make a clearance.

0:42

Unfair challenge on Ashley Westwood by Jay Rodriguez results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Bradley Guzan.

0:00

The match begins.

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