Villa hold off Newcastle
Birmingham - James Collins eased the pressure on Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier as his header secured a 1-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday.
Collins had been fined two weeks wages by Houllier in March for his part in a health spa altercation with the Frenchman's coaching staff, but the Wales defender doesn't seem to hold a grudge judging by his impressive efforts at Villa Park.
He headed the only goal midway through the first half and spent the rest of the match keeping Newcastle's forwards at bay as Villa moved five points clear of the relegation zone.
It was hardly a classic performance but even so it was a vital victory for Houllier after Villa fans vented their anger at the former Liverpool boss following a recent home defeat against Wolves.
As an added bonus, the win also went some way to avenging Villa's 6-0 thrashing at Newcastle in August.
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, only for the midfielder to head well over.
Villa keeper Brad Friedel went down to his left to gather Nile Ranger's low attempt from Jonas Gutierrez's through-ball.
But that bright start from Newcastle quickly faded after 24 minutes when Collins put Villa ahead.
Barton was penalised for bringing down Ashley Young, who took the free-kick himself and Collins' glancing header flew past goalkeeper Steve Harper into the far corner of the net.
Young had a shot deflected wide after finding plenty of space 20 yards out, then a goalbound header from Richard Dunne was blocked from the resulting corner by Young.
Villa thought they had scored again just before halftime but Darren Bent's effort was harshly ruled offside.
The hosts started the second period on the offensive and a mistake by Barton allowed Stiliyan Petrov to find Gabriel 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 Steve Harper.
Villa were 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 England striker Bent after an hour.
Houllier's side were still searching for the second goal and Collins had a goalbound header cleared from a Young corner.
Newcastle finally mounted a late rally and Friedel clung on to a Peter Lovenkrands header before blocking a low drive from Danish striker in injury time.