BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Southampton broke into the Premier League top four on Sunday after midfielder James Ward-Prowse curled in a pair of sublime free kicks and set up another goal on his 26th birthday to engineer a thrilling 4-3 win at Aston Villa.
Southampton romped to a 4-0 lead before Villa’s late surge ultimately produced an avalanche of goals, with the Midlands side suffering their second successive home defeat after they were beaten by Leeds United 3-0 in the previous round of matches.
Villa, who narrowly avoided relegation last season, had enjoyed majestic form as they won their opening four games but have now been brought down to earth after Southampton ripped through them in the opening hour.
Ward-Prowse was delighted after a classy individual performance which helped the visitors to stretch their unbeaten league run against Villa to eight games.
“Nice to get a couple of goals on your birthday, I’m living my boyhood dream so I’m happy,” the midfielder told the BBC.
“We got a little bit complacent at the end. But we’ve grown as a team; the next step is to manage those moments when we’ve got the lead.
“We’re a totally different team to a year ago. I feel as if we’re on a great path to get back to where we belong and break into the top 10.
“We had a taste of Europe a few years ago and genuinely believe we have what it takes to get back there.”
Having had an Ezri Konsa own goal disallowed for Che Adams’s marginal offside early on, Southampton took the lead in the 20th minute when Danish centre back Jannik Vestergaard headed home a Ward-Prowse free kick from the left.
Ward-Prowse then turned scorer with more set-piece subtlety, lashing in a superb free kick from 25 metres in the 33rd minute before he curled another one past keeper Emiliano Martinez on the stroke of halftime.
Ings made it 4-0 with a spectacular shot into the top corner in the 58th minute before the Saints took their feet off the pedal and Villa took full advantage.
Tyrone Mings pulled back a goal in the 62nd as he turned in a Jack Grealish cross with a glancing header and the home side pressed on to keep visiting keeper Alex McCarthy busy, notably halftime substitute Trezeguet who came close several times.
Villa’s late pressure produced two more goals in stoppage time as Ollie Watkins netted a penalty before Grealish also scored with the last kick of the game.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Clare Fallon
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