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Villa win keeps fourth in sight

ASTON VILLA, daring where Liverpool feared to tread, moved to within three points of the top four last night thanks to James Milner scoring the winning goal.

Unbeaten in the Premier League this year, Martin O'Neill's team have momentum and a game or two in hand on their rivals as they face eminently winnable home matches in the coming week.

Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sunderland visit Villa Park in the next seven days and, having prevailed on the stage where Liverpool faltered last week, Villa may have more than an FA Cup semi-final to relish this spring.

If Villa's goalless draw with Stoke City on Saturday put the dead into deadlock, this game started with so much vitality that the managers must have been as frightened as the supporters were delighted.


Wigan, with only one league victory since November, have tended to produce their best against the better teams, but Villa set about the contest with zest and with Gabriel Agbonlahor in tandem with John Carew up front.

Chances were exchanged as if with gay abandon, Agbonlahor turning past Titus Bramble only to see his shot cleared by Maynor Figueroa, and then Hugo Rodallega displaying exemplary control before dispatching a shot on the run that Villa keeper Brad Friedel saved. Villa had an energy about their game, Milner offering penetration with his clever passing. When the England utility man played a first-time volley back out wide, Stewart Downing crossed to the far post for Carew to head back across the face of goal, where Wigan's James McCarthy miscued his clearance and volleyed into his own net.


Then the Premier League's tightest defence conceded inside two minutes.

Charles N'Zogbia's free-kick from the right was met by Gary Caldwell -- chastised for his performance in Saturday's 4-0 defeat by Bolton Wanderers after sleepless nights upon becoming a father -- who got between Villa defenders Richard Dunne and James Collins to head in.

Still Villa threatened. Ashley Young's brilliant run opened up the defence for Carew to shoot, but at Chris Kirkland, before Milner volleyed wide from the edge of the penalty area. But he made amends midway through the second half.

From Young's corner, Kirkland was under pressure from Villa's heavy artillery, but the former England goalkeeper still should have cleared the ball more convincingly.

Mohamed Diame compounded the sense of panic, sending the ball only as far as the edge of the area from where Milner, sensing Kirkland was still struggling to find his feet, shot first time into the back of the net for his 10th goal of the season.