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  • Aston Villa 2-1 Westbrom: Downing, Heskey scored

    Emile Heskey scored with cool-header on his return from injury as Aston Villa beat West Brom 2-1 in the Premier League midlands derby at Villa Park.
    Stewart Downing slid in to put Villa ahead with a 25th minute effort against the run of play after West Brom had started off running rings around their hosts.

    But Villa gradually increased their control on the game in the second half before Heskey nodded home a deserved second.

    Paul Scharner's rocket of a header in the last minute of normal time set up a frantic finale, but Villa hung on to complete a win that eases the pressure on manager Gerrard Houllier.

    West Brom came into the match looking determined to end a winless league run at Villa Park that stretches back to 1979, and from the opening whistle began to move forward at every opportunity.

    And within three minutes there could have been a goal, a penalty, or both as Villa defender James Collins appeared to handle a cross whipped in by Chris Brunt. Though the referee did not blow up the ball fell to Somen Tchoyi, who, perhaps not realising how much time he had, snatched at his shot which ran straight into the arms of Brad Friedel.

    West Brom continued to press their hosts at every opportunity, winning a sequence of corners that were cleared by the impressive Villa centre-back duo of Collins and Carlos Cuellar.

    But Tchoyi nearly made the breakthrough after 21 minutes with some dazzling skill as he cut into the box, leaving two defenders rooted to the spot as he smashed a left-foot effort past Friedel - only to see the ball clatter back into play off the underside of the post.

    West Brom could do nothing with the rebound, and Villa - having escaped conceding a surefire contender for goal of the week - broke upfield to put pressure on their opponents for the first time.

    It was the speed of their counter-attack that yielded the goal, with the defence all over the pitch as the impressive Marc Albrighton whipped a cross from the right corner straight through the six-yard box where it was met at the far post by Downing, who lunged to make contact and poke the ball home.

    The goal against the run of play seemed to shock West Brom, and Villa began to shine - with Heskey showing the skill holding up the ball that Villa have missed over the last six weeks. His control and dribbling on 36 minutes almost yielded a second goal, but the West Brom defence gathered to close him down.

    Villa began the second half more confidently, pressing the Baggies back into their own half, even if it was still the visitors who dominated the possession stats.

    The home side always looked the more likely to add a second, and it nearly came as the earlier goalscoring roles were reversed, with Downing's cross from the left finding Albrighton at the far post whose neatly-guided header span just wide of the right post.

    With Collins and Cuellar continuing their immense defensive efforts, West Brom were largely restricted to half-chances, and it was no surprise that the next goal came from Villa.

    Heskey had wasted a gilt-edged chance on 65 minutes as his pace let him down when a quicker man would easily have been there to meet Ashley Young's ball across the six-yard box, but the veteran made up for it with 10 minutes left when he was there to nod home the simplest of headed goals as two West Brom defenders failed to clear Albrighton's inch-perfect cross.

    The points were seemingly in the bag when the visitors pulled one back. Christ Brunt's corner found Paul Scharner in the box, the defender rising unmarked to thunder home as powerful a header as you could ever hope to see.

    But despite a frantic four minutes of injury time the Baggies could do no more to rescue a point. Villa completed a victory that pulls them up to 13th place in the table and takes much of the heat off recently-installed manager Houllier.
    Toby Keel / Eurosport


    Team Line-up:

    Aston Villa: Friedel, Lichaj, Cuellar, Collins, Warnock, Albrighton, Hogg, Bannan, Downing, Ashley Young, Heskey.
    West Bromwich Albion : Carson, Jara, Scharner, Tamas, Cech, Brunt, Dorrans, Tchoyi, Morrison, Thomas, Fortune.


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