Adam Armstrong’s early goal helped Southampton continue their Premier League revival as they inflicted a fifth defeat in a row on Aston Villa.
Dean Smith’s side are short on confidence and got off to a disastrous start with Matt Cash failing to clear a long ball and Armstrong smashing in a sensational first-time effort from 20 yards.
Villa were a mess in the first half and Southampton could have led by several goals at the break, while the visitors’ Anwar el Ghazi was lucky to avoid a second booking for a blatant dive.
But Villa looked like a new side in the second half with El Ghazi and Emiliano Buendia going close.
They also had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Oriol Romeu pulled Tyrone Mings’ shirt, but they could not find a leveller and the pressure increases on Smith.
Southampton move up to 12th, while Villa remain only three points above the relegation zone before everybody else plays this weekend.
Villa were six points above Southampton at the start of October – and now sit four points behind them.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Saints have taken 10 points from four league matches, as many as in their previous 11 games.
It was the archetypal game of two halves on Friday night.
Southampton were first to every ball in the first half, and got in behind the Villa defence time and time again.
Adam Armstrong gave Saints that early lead and then namesake Stuart Armstrong blazed over when unmarked in the box.
Villa players passed around a note from the bench midway through the first half, which returning captain Tyrone Mings hid in his sock, but it did not change much.
El Ghazi had been booked for an early foul on Valentino Livramento and twice rode his luck. First he grabbed Livramento around the shoulders and then dived in the box, but avoided punishment each time.
Saints should have scored more with Emiliano Martinez diving to keep out James Ward-Prowse’s shot.
The second half started in the opposite manner with Villa winning 50-50s and creating chances at will.
They had more shots in the opening eight minutes of the second half (five) as in the first 45 minutes – including two from El Ghazi.
Villa’s bench were furious when the referee did not give a penalty for Romeu’s clear shirt-tug on Mings – with no activity from the video assistant referee either.
They finished with three strikers on the pitch and probably deserved to take a point – but this is now their worst losing run since January to February 2017 in the Championship.
The pressure grows on Smith and he has 15 days until he can start turning things around, with the international break due to start.