James Collins eased Aston Villa's relegation worries with a first half winner in the Premier League match with Newcastle United at Villa Park. The Welsh international defender headed home an Ashley Young free-kick midway through the first half to give Villa revenge for a 6-0 mauling at the hands of the Magpies at St James' Park last August.
More importantly, the victory lifted Gerard Houllier's side five points clear of the bottom three, with six games remaining. Villa were relieved to hang on for the victory after dropping more points from winning positions than any other Premier League team this season.
The game was not a classic, but the result rather than the performance was crucial given Villa's current predicament. However, they deserved the three points after dominating the second period with winger Stewart Downing again impressing.
Newcastle had slightly the better of the first half, but lacked a cutting edge particularly without the services of suspended captain and top scorer Kevin Nolan. The Magpies were the first to threaten and a dangerous left-wing cross from Jose Enrique picked out the run of Joey Barton at the far post. But the midfielder opted for a first time header when there was time to control the ball and his effort flew into the Holte End.
Newcastle started to impose themselves on the game and Brad Friedel went down to his left to gather Nile Ranger's low attempt from Jonas Gutierrez's through-ball. Mike Williamson became the first player to be booked for bringing down Gabriel Agbonlahor in full flight.
Then after 24 minutes a superb header from Collins put Villa ahead. Barton was upset at being penalised for bringing down Ashley Young. Young took the free-kick himself and Collins' glancing header flew past goalkeeper Steve Harper into the far corner of the net. It was his third goal of the campaign.
Young had a shot deflected wide after finding plenty of space 20 yards out, then a goal bound header from Richard Dunne was blocked from the resulting corner by the influential Young. Downing delivered an inviting cross after skipping past the challenge of Danny Simpson, but Darren Bent could not keep his header down. Bent had the ball in the net a minute before half-time, but was ruled offside.
Villa started the second period on the offensive and a mistake by Barton allowed Stiliyan Petrov to find Agbonlahor in space on the left flank. He had time to make ground into the Newcastle box and his curling shot was parried aside by Harper.
The home side were now in the ascendancy and Harper went down to cling on to Agbonlahor's low shot on the turn. The home side appealed in vain for a penalty when Steven Taylor barged into Bent after an hour. It was Taylor's last contribution before he was replaced by namesake Ryan.
Still searching for the second goal, Collins had a goal bound header cleared from a Young corner. Petrov was booked after bringing down Barton, who was then yellow carded for a challenge on Villa substitute Nigel Reo-Coker. Friedel clung on to a Peter Lovenkrands header and then blocked a low drive from the same player in injury-time.