This is typically a match report. So... let's get that out of the way first.
Aston Villa weathered a bit of pressure early but truth be told, Southampton didn't really offer much going forward.
Then, right before the half-hour mark, the much-maligned Ciaran Clark (who was actually really good) bombed a clearance forward. Fraser Forster made a mess of it with Gabby Agbonlahor bearing down on him and Agbonlahor finished into a mostly-open net to give Villa the lead. It was the first time Southampton had conceded in more than 400 minutes and really showed off that pace that we all love Gabby for.
Brad Guzan had to dive and punch away a solid effort by Sadio Mane on 37 minutes in Saints' best opportunity of the half but the home side entered the half-time interval 1-0 up. Good enough.
Charles N'Zogbia — who had a real howler of a game — came off just past the hour mark for Kieran Richardson and Saints really started turning up the pressure on the Villa defense.
Then, of course, came the substitution everyone is talking about on 74 minutes as Darren Bent came on for Carlos Sánchez. The Saints pressure kept up in the immediate aftermath of the sub but then Villa did what they do best under Paul Lambert — get out on the break.
Andi Weimann started and should have finished a superb break but from 12 yards out, sent his shot about 20 yards into the air and out of play.
Four minutes, later, Villa did the other thing they're good at: give up points in the final 10 minutes.
With the ball on the other side of the pitch, Saints right back Nathaniel Clyne made a run to the edge of the 18. Former Villa loanee Ryan Bertrand crossed the ball and Clyne slotted home a powerful shot to level the scores in the 81st minute.
The Villans turned up the pressure in the final 10 minutes and controlled play but failed to get a shot on target during the final nine minutes (plus stoppage time), leaving the match a 1-1 draw.
A lot of guys, I felt, really played well. On the whole, Agbonlahor did and Jores Okore's re-debut for Villa went about as well as it could have. He needs to play. All the time. Not just because of injuries.
For me, it was a good point
Coming into today, Southampton had only dropped points in three of their 11 matches — they lost to Liverpool and Spurs while also drawing West Bromwich Albion back in August. Saints had been 8 unbeaten and undrawn against clubs that didn't finish in last season's top-seven. They're a club that's going to be firmly planted in the European race all year if the bottom doesn't fall out.
And the other thing worth noting? Villa are averaging a point per game so far against what's certainly been the toughest fixtures in the league. Villa have played 10 of the top 12 — only missing out on fourth-placed Manchester United and seventh-placed Swansea City and quite frankly, I'd have taken being where Villa are right now if you'd have asked me in August.
But above all else, the draw sets Villa back up with some confidence heading into a crucial run of fixtures. Over the next four matches, Villa play Burnley (19th), Crystal Palace (15th), Leicester City (18th), and West Bromwich Albion (13th). And after a break to play those other two top-12 sides, Villa get Sunderland (14th) before seeing Palace and Leicester for a second time.
This run is... going to make or break Villa's season. And if the defense feels better about itself — which, by now, it should — it allows Villa to take the game to these teams like they did against Hull City or, quite honestly, early against QPR.
So... why we're all here... that substitution
Look, here's what I'm going to present:
I don't think you can necessarily argue against taking Carlos Sánchez off. While he did well winning the ball, he's still woeful on it and after how he helped throw the game against Spurs away, it's not too outrageous of an idea to take him off.
Then, operating in the framework that you're going to take Sánchez off in favor of some fresh legs, it brings us to the decision. I would've said Jack Grealish instead of Bent — he's got quicker legs that could've helped get out and break to relieve the pressure that the Villa net was under when the sub was made. But, ultimately, it didn't make that much of a difference.
When Clyne ventured in from the right wing, it was Gabby Agbonlahor's responsibility to track him. Agbonlahor was playing on the left wing at this point and as the left winger, his responsibility is to mark the right back. Kieran Richardson — who was, at least on this play, setup marking the man Sánchez would've likely been marking — was in the middle of the pitch, performing his duties.
If you go back and watch, Andi Weimann — as the right winger — was marking the run of Southampton's left back, Ryan Bertrand, on the play into the box. And he did a pretty good job with it as the only option Bertrand had in the box was to play it back to a guy that was 35+ yards from goal when the pass was made.
Unfortunately, someone didn't do their job. And that man was Agbonlahor. He turned his back to the play, fell asleep, and by the time he got back to his senses, it was just too late to get over and keep Clyne from leveling the scoreline.
So, I'll envision two different scenarios with the substitution for you. Firstly, we've got the case where Grealish comes on for Sánchez. Everything remains the same with the exception of the man marking Clyne. Does Jack Grealish do a better job tracking his run? Similarly, if you make no substitution at all and Sánchez is in the middle of the park, does Richardson (who's probably playing wide on the left) track Clyne's run?
And you can argue that both of those guys — more natural wingers than Gabby — can do that better and that's a fair point of view. But the fact remains that Gabby Agbonlahor was your captain yesterday. In late-game situations where you need to buckle down and hold your opponent at bay, your captain has to be the guy you can count on the most to make the big play. Agbonlahor is the veteran of this team, the guy that bleeds claret and blue, the guy that's Villa's longest-tenured player. He has to be better in that situation. Period.
Bringing on Darren Bent for Carlos Sánchez did not lose Villa the game. Gabby Agbonlahor's inability to pay attention for 90 full minutes?