SHANE Long and Stuart Armstrong will grab the headlines, but Saints’ defence led them to victory on Saturday.

James Ward-Prowse, filling in for Kyle Walker-Peters, was deployed at right back and kept Aston Villa’s star man, Jack Grealish, quiet all afternoon.

But should we be surprised by this?

The 25-year-old has become accustomed to playing in that position in times of an emergency and tends to do an excellent job in keeping the opposition’s best players quiet.

Saints fans still enjoy winding Wilfried Zaha up on Twitter, suggesting he spends most of his time in Ward-Prowse’s pocket.

However, Ward-Prowse does more than just get under their skin.

On Saturday, for example, he read the game excellently and made a couple of key blocks inside Saints’ area to deny Aston Villa testing Alex McCarthy.

Perhaps his experience playing in central midfield helps him gauge an understanding of how Villa were going to spring an attack.

Even if this is the case, you’ve still got to be able to execute the tackle or block and he deserves credit for that.

But it wasn’t just Ward-Prowse proving to be an immovable object throughout the game, Jack Stephens was, arguably, the best player on the pitch.

Since coming back into the team towards the end of 2019 the Torpoint-born defender hasn’t looked back.

His performances have led to him becoming one of the first names on the teamsheet and, although Saints still concede too many goals, you can’t deny he’s made a positive impact.

Stephens and Jan Bednarek have formed a solid partnership but if you watch closely you’ll see that it’s the 26-year-old who marshals the defence.

He’s an effective communicator at the back and can also pose a threat from set-pieces as seen on Saturday when he nearly flicked in from Ryan Bertrand’s cross.

Both central defenders did a fine job in nullifying Villa’s £8.5m January signing Mbwana Samatta and, even when he did get a shot away, Saints’ defence were on hand to block it.

Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side’s record at the back isn’t good enough but if they should take plenty of confidence from keeping a clean sheet at St Mary’s.

Especially as it was just the second time in the Premier League that they’ve managed to keep the opposition from scoring on their home turf.