Premier League - Villa take big step towards safety
Aston Villa's hopes of Premier League survival were given a huge boost by their 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at Villa Park.
James Collins scored his third goal of the season midway through the first half to give Villa their first win in five games and avenge the 6-0 thrashing handed to them at St James' Park in the reverse fixture back in August.
The win sends Villa up two places to 14th in the table, and there is now a five-point gap between them and the relegation zone. Newcastle remain in ninth, above West Bromwich Albion on goal difference.
The Villans were greatly helped by the fact they were facing a depleted Newcastle side. The Magpies were missing Cheick Tiote, James Perch and captain Kevin Nolan through suspension, and injuries to strike duo Leon Best and Shola Ameobi conspired to hand 20-year-old Nile Ranger - the player most used as a substitute this season - his first Premier League start up front alongside Peter Lovenkrands.
Barton has hit the headlines this week following his claim to being the best English midfielder, but it was his indiscipline which led to Collins's opener when he cynically fouled Ashley Young on the left flank. Young sent in an inviting dead ball which Collins glanced past Steve Harper and into the far corner.
Darren Bent missed out on two chances to double the lead before the break. First the England striker headed Stewart Downing's cross over from inside the six-yard box before - in the final minute of the half - he had a goal wrongly disallowed when he met Jean Makoun's through ball inside the box and beat the keeper with a tidy finish. The referee's assistant had his flag up for offside, but Bent was clearly level with the last defender.
Villa continued to win the battle against Newcastle's patched-up midfield after the break. Gabriel Agbonlahor's low strike required a strong-handed save from Harper, who then tipped Ashley Young's strike around the post but was fortunate to get away with a goal kick.
As the half wore on Villa lost a lot of the tempo which had made them so difficult to handle, and Newcastle slowly began to edge their way back into the match. As the previously buoyant home crowd were given reason to have their nerves frayed when Lovenkrands twice drew saves from Brad Friedel in the closing stages.
Substitute Ryan Taylor fired a free-kick over the bar in injury time and Villa held on to take a big step towards extending their 23-year stay in the top flight.