Aston Villa’s wait for a win continued on Monday night as they were forced to settle for a 1-1 home draw with Southampton.
Villa went ahead just before the half-hour when Gabby Agbonlahor took advantage of a Fraser Forster error to score the first goal against Southampton in 439 minutes of Premier League action.
Paul Lambert’s side managed to hold off the visitors’ onslaught for much of the game, and could have even sealed the results 12 minutes before the end, only for Andreas Weimann to blaze a golden opportunity over the bar following an impressive counter-attack.
They were then made to pay a few minutes later, however, when Saints right-back Nathaniel Clyne hammered in a Ryan Bertrand cross to deny the Claret and Blues a much-needed win.
It’s now eight games without a victory for Villa and, despite back-to-back draws against two of the league’s surprise packages, the 25,311 attendance – the lowest at Villa Park since December 1999 – highlighted the club’s current plight.
Nevertheless, there were a few positives to be taken from the match, particularly the performance of centre-back Ciaran Clark, who did a superb job marshalling the back-line in the absence of injured pair Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos.
The impact of the 25-year-old’s display alongside Jores Okore, who was making his first Villa appearance in 14 months, was not lost on manager Lambert, who singled both out for special praise at the final whistle.
“I thought the two young centre-backs were outstanding, I really did. I thought they were excellent,” he told the club’s official website.
"Jores Okore hasn't played for 14 months. And he was outstanding. Ciaran Clark took the lead and helped him. I thought Ciaran was excellent.
"We had two young guys at the heart of our defence. Ciaran has been in and out of the side but never lets you down every time he plays. Jores was outstanding.”
The subject of largely deserved criticism from Villa fans over the past 18 months, Clark went into this season with his future at the club in the balance, but now appears set to play a crucial role over the coming weeks with Vlaar, Senderos and Baker all sidelined for a few more weeks.
Supporters certainly gave credit where credit was due, with many taking to Twitter to hail the Republic of Ireland international’s impressive outing.
Credit where it's due, Clark was good tonight, him and Okore kept Pelle very quiet, just can't close out these games #avfc— Jamie Hughes (@JayHughes90) November 24, 2014
Whatever we make of the overall performance Clark and Okore were excellent at the back tonight #avfc— e-Aston Villa (@e_AstonVilla) November 24, 2014
You'll probably never hear this said ever again but Ciaran Clark was excellent tonight #avfc— Dips Parmar (@Dips_avfc) November 24, 2014
Maybe Villa fans will give Clark a break for a day or two. If there was a league for moaning/negative fans we'd be 10 points clear #avfc— CJ Fitz (@cjfitz84) November 24, 2014
Clark played well, got MOTM, his biggest test is his next game, can he keep up a constant high level of performance? We'll see. #Avfc— Jim (@MT_Jim) November 24, 2014
Thought Clark did well tonight. Easiest player to slag but fairs fair. Okore should start for rest of season. Brilliant. #avfc— GetTheHolteEndBack (@BruceRioch4) November 24, 2014
Ciaran Clark was excellent. Nothing of note in an attacking sense again from the midfield three. Worried big time #avfc— Luke Smith (@born2bemild2000) November 24, 2014
Nornally makes me angry but clark did well aswell today #avfc— Suki Tranter (@suki_AVFC) November 24, 2014
Clark—also very good. Number of important blocks and crucial headers. Positionally strong in the box and high up. #AVFC— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) November 24, 2014
Would of took a point before the game. Thought Clark was brilliant just wish more consistent. Onwards and upwards now! #avfc— SarahLJoseph (@sarah_L_Joey) November 24, 2014
Credit to Ciaran Clark tonight who was magnificent. Showed real leadership in there. Okore very good too. #avfc— Neil Fox (@FoxyN77) November 24, 2014
Oh and not forgetting Clark! Best performance from him for 2 years! #avfc— Andy (@AndyVilla80) November 24, 2014