The 23-year-old Dane returned from a six-month injury absence to start Saturday's 1-1 draw at St Mary's.
Jores Okore finally made his first appearance of the season for Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon, when the Danish centre-back’s solid performance at the heart of a makeshift defence helped Remi Garde’s men secure a 1-1 draw at Southampton.
Okore, 23, had not played any first-team football since May until this weekend, having undergone a knee operation following the 4-0 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal after fighting through the pain barrier during last season’s run-in.
However, the Denmark international has made a handful of appearances for Villa’s Under-21s since late September, and with Ciaran Clark suspended and Micah Richards out injured for the trip to the south coast, new boss Garde opted to hand him his first senior run-in in six months.
The visitors had to withstand an early onslaught at St Mary’s, as Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Jose Fonte all missed golden chances, but the fit-again stopper recovered from a somewhat testing opening 30 minutes to put in an assured showing over the remaining hour.
Garde’s side on a whole looked much more comfortable after stand-in skipper Joleon Lescott opened the scoring just before the break with a simple tap-in from Jordan Veretout’s low and bouncing corner, and Okore certainly played his part by keeping the physically imposing Pelle in check from then on.
The 6ft defender also managed to put up some solid statistics in the process, recording a team-leading three tackles, five clearances and an interception, while winning four out of his five duels.
|2015-16 Premier League||Total Tackles||Total Clearances||Duels Won||Duels Lost||Interceptions||Total Passes||Passing Accuracy||Dispossessed||Mins Played|
Villa could not ultimately hold onto their lead, as some sloppy marking from Carlos Sanchez allowed Oriol Romeu to turn in a corner at the far post with 17 minutes left, but manager Garde was still full of praise for Okore and his fellow defenders after the match for their contributions towards a respectable point on the road.
“They did very well. They were helped by all the other players,” the Frenchman told the club’s official website. “This wasn't really the case in the previous two games.
“When everybody is focused on defending, makes effort to regain the ball, it's easier for the back four. Today they did well.
“Jores Okore was very strong and Joleon Lescott played with the experience that he has. Leo Bacuna did well on the left - he's not used to that. These guys did that for the team.
“It's important to have this spirit in the period where we are.”
Okore will likely have to settle for a place on the bench next Sunday when Villa host Arsenal, with Clark back from suspension and Richards expected to be fit, but Garde does have the option of moving the latter out to right-back going forward if he wants to make room for the eight-time capped Dane in the starting XI.
When 100 per cent fit, there is a decent argument to make that he is the club’s best centre-half, and having only just turned 23 in August, his best days in a claret and blue shirt are hopefully ahead of him.