Collins keeps head to ease Villa clear of drop zone
Aston Villa 1
Newcastle Utd 0
Instead of music blaring out over the stadium speakers before this match, Villa Park had resounded to the ominous sound of a tolling bell.
If that encapsulated the mood at kick-off, the cacophony which rang out at the final whistle showed the importance of a well-taken first-half goal from James Collins. It took Villa to their first clean sheet since January and five points clear of the relegation zone.
Newcastle had warned Villa with personal experience that no team is too good to go down, but the response from Gerard Houllier's side suggested they disagree.
This was a hardworking performance which outmatched an under-strength Newcastle. The best chance for the away side did not arrive until the 88th minute when Peter Lovenkrands had the goal at his mercy but directed his header at Brad Friedel.
Villa did endure a fraught final five minutes but, showing steel which has eluded them all season, they held firm. Kyle Walker again allowed himself to be dispossessed near his area too easily and too often, but this was too significant a victory for Villa to get bogged down in the negatives.
"We knew that this was a massive game," said Collins. "Everyone felt (the tension), the players and the fans. The position we are in is not a good one so to get the win is massive."
It felt like Villa's day from the start. Alan Pardew was forced to make two changes from the side which defeated Wolves 4-1. Kevin Nolan was suspended and Shola Ameobi was ruled out with an ankle injury -- significant losses.
Fabricio Coloccini and Danny Guthrie never looked in danger of creating something in the centre of midfield. "We missed some core players and that affected us," Pardew said. "We didn't have a great deal of options." Newcastle might have been relegated at Villa Park two years ago, and Villa fans may have taunted them with a banner asking 'Who's your next Messiah, Ant or Dec?', but their promise to make the Midlands club pay never materialised.
With the exception of Joey Barton, captaining Newcastle and never quiet for a moment, Villa were more eager from the first kick.
It took the fourth official's announcement that there was to be five minutes of additional time for Newcastle to spark to life.
Lovenkrands headed the ball at Friedel, and Coloccini was brought down outside the area by Carlos Cuellar in stoppage time, but Ryan Taylor struck his free-kick over.
"We showed desire, commitment, battling qualities," Houllier said. "We have control of our fate, (but) there is still a lot of work to be done." (© Daily Telegraph, London)