Lambert penalty sinks Villa
Birmingham - A contentious Rickie Lambert penalty gave Southampton a 1-0 win at Aston Villa on Saturday that saw the Birmingham club slip into the Premier League relegation zone.
Lambert converted his 29th successful penalty in a row in the 34th minute after Enda Stevens was penalised for a challenge on Jay Rodriguez, and the goal was enough to send Nigel Adkins' men up to 15th place.
Beaten 3-1 by fourth-tier Bradford City in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final in mid-week, Paul Lambert's young Villa side have now gone five games without victory in the league and find themselves in real danger of relegation.
Perhaps eager to atone for their setback at Bradford, the hosts started positively at Villa Park and Christian Benteke saw a shot curl narrowly wide of the far post in the sixth minute.
The visitors were quick to react, however, and they soon began to create openings.
Rodriguez was unable to capitalise on a smart flick from Lambert and the former Burnley man then headed wide from Jason Puncheon's cross.
Highly rated 17-year-old left-back Luke Shaw drilled a low shot across goal and wide from 25 yards, before Southampton took the lead in controversial fashion.
Rodriguez hit the deck as Stevens attempted a challenge and although the Villa defender did not appear to make contact, referee Mark Halsey awarded a penalty and Lambert calmly planted the spot-kick into the bottom-right corner.
Shaw threatened again before half-time after wriggling into the box from the left, but Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked his effort at the near post.
Villa stepped things up after the interval and visiting goalkeeper Artur Boruc had to produce two excellent saves to thwart Andreas Weimann and then Stevens, with Benteke hoisting the rebound from Stevens' effort over the top.
The hosts' eagerness to equalise left gaps at the back, however, and after Rodriguez tested Guzan, Puncheon drifted in-field from the right before rolling a low shot against the foot of the right-hand post.
Gradually, Villa got a grip on the game and Southampton spent the closing stages defending desperately.
Boruc saved from Benteke and defender Nathan Baker headed against the bar from a Barry Bannan corner, before substitute Gabriel Agbonlahor was thwarted by Boruc and Benteke failed to convert the rebound.