Aston Villa 1 – 0 Newcastle United – Relegation fears eased by win

Relegation threatened Aston Villa took a big step towards safety with a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at Villa Park. Gerard Houllier’s team moved five points clear of the bottom three thanks to James Collins’ header in the 24th minute.

Over recent weeks the Villa fans have been highly critical of Gerard Houllier and his players but on a day when a win was really needed; they were able to grind a much coveted result even if they did start the match on the back foot. Joey Barton, the self-professed best midfielder in England, couldn’t direct his early header on target and Nile Ranger chose to take on a chance of his own when Peter Lovenkrands was arguably better placed before Collins struck with the only goal of the game against the run of play.

Ashley Young, the most fouled player in the Premier League, won a free-kick under pressure from Barton close to the left touchline. The England winger swung in the set piece himself and his delivery picked out the run of the Welshman. He got just enough on his header to guide it across the goal and beyond the outstretched arm of Steve Harper.

The goal spurred on the hosts to take control of the game and they pressured Newcastle looking for a second goal. Stewart Downing fired over and Darren Bent failed to keep an effort on target before a second Villa goal was denied by the assistant referee’s flag. Bent had been found by Jean Makoun’s clever pass but the marksman just went too early.

Newcastle were without Kevin Nolan and Cheik Tiote through suspension and Leon Best because of injury, and they failed to produce many real moments of attack. The visitors were at times playing like a team comfortable in their safety. There was little in the way of passion from Alan Pardew’s side and though they currently sit in 9th in the Premier League table, they still haven’t achieved the potentially crucial 40 point benchmark.

In the second period, Aston Villa continued to win the midfield without extending their lead. Gabriel Agbonlahor and Young had chances to put the result beyond doubt but failed to make any pay.

Luckily for Villa, they weren’t made to rue their missed opportunities. Barton, the stand-in captain, had argued over the free-kick that led to Collins’ winner and his own sense of injustice was the only thing pushing Newcastle forward towards an equaliser. He found Danny Guthrie with a well-placed pass but the former Liverpool man could only head straight at Brad Friedel. As the game headed towards a close, Friedel was called into action two more times by Lovenkrands but both efforts were comfortable saves.

Mathematically every team from Liverpool in sixth down can still be relegated so nothing is guaranteed but given the points advantage that both Aston Villa and Newcastle hold other the bottom three; both sets of fans should be expecting to be in the top flight against next year.

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