Southampton eased past a managerless Aston Villa to secure a convincing 2-1 victory and safe passage through to the Capital One Cup fourth round.
Despite an often disjointed performance, classy goals from Maya Yoshida and Graziano Pelle proved more than enough to defeat clearly demoralised opposition and to build on the promising form of recent weeks, even with Scott Sinclair’s stoppage-time penalty.
Southampton had made seven changes from the team which drew 1-1 at Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday and it repeatedly showed.
That James Ward-Prowse, Steven Caulker and Oriol Romeu were among those recalled to Ronald Koeman’s starting XI said much about the strength of their squad but instead of the often hoped-for hunger of fringe players they lacked cohesion.
Villa far from thrived in their first fixture since manager Tim Sherwood was sacked and Kevin MacDonald was placed in temporary charge but they at least showed incremental improvement and were the only team to pose a threat throughout the opening 45 minutes.
Three goalscoring opportunities fell to Rudy Gestede but the striker twice headed harmlessly wide and once at goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who saved then as routinely as he did Leandro Bacuna’s near-post shot towards half-time.
It was defender Yoshida who surprisingly gave Southampton the lead six minutes into the second half.
Exchanging passes with Ward-Prowse having run from defence, Yoshida approached Villa’s penalty area with the composure of a seasoned striker before shooting with his left foot into the bottom right corner beyond goalkeeper Brad Guzan’s reach.
As is so often the case with a struggling side, much of the confidence Villa had had gradually disappeared, and prompted questions about why the experienced Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott were rested.
Substitute Jack Grealish, who benefitted more than any other from Sherwood’s brief reign, soon miskicked on the edge of the area but Gabriel Agbonlahor collected the loose ball and tested Stekelenburg with a curling shot.
If they were to have any chance of avoiding defeat the next goal was essential, but Pelle’s soon followed and ended the fixture as a contest.
Substitute Dusan Tadic had both time and space on the left wing, and with Pelle equally free in the penalty area he sent a perfectly-weighted pass into the striker’s path which he volleyed with his right foot beyond Guzan and into the bottom left corner.
Deep into stoppage time, Virgil van Dijk clumsily fouled substitute Jordan Ayew in the area to allow Sinclair to score from the resultant penalty, but even that barely felt a consolation.