Football: Batty breaks his duck to lift pressure off Newcastle

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Aston Villa 0

Newcastle United 1

Newcastle's first away win in the Premiership for more than two months coincided with the unveiling of a new strike partnership against Brian Little's toiling side. But it was that rarest of commodities, a David Batty goal, that brought relief to Kenny Dalglish and left Villa to contemplate a slide now assuming dangerous proportions.

One a season is about as good a rate as the England midfielder ever achieves and yesterday's second-half strike, a low volley from 20 yards, was his first since finding the target with a 40-yard chip against Wimbledon 17 months ago and only the eighth goal of his career.

But the timing, from Dalglish's standpoint, was immaculate, providing a significant boost to his side's confidence ahead of Wednesday's banana- skin FA Cup replay against Stevenage and relieving some of the burden of expectation sitting on the shoulders of Alan Shearer and Andreas Andersson.

The recuperating England striker was teamed with Dalglish's pounds 3.6m signing from Milan ahead of schedule, given the Swede's lack of match practice during an Italian season spent largely on the bench. But needs must. Newcastle's woeful scoring record has been gnawing away at their manager's patience for too long for him to wait any longer.

In the event, Andersson looked fitter and stronger than could have been expected after the briefest acquaintance with Newcastle's training ground and once the 23-year-old regains the sharpness he displayed for Gothenburg he should prove to be a shrewd acquisition.

As for Shearer, there were growing signs that his recovery is almost complete. Clearly, he is still easing himself back towards synchronisation with the pace and intensity of the Premiership and Gareth Southgate contained his threat for much of the afternoon.

But there were encouraging glimpses of returning form, none the less, in particular when a burst of speed enabled him to meet a near-post cross from Keith Gillespie towards the end of the first half, a sharp and accurate header bringing a good save from Mark Bosnich.

The glory, however, belonged to Batty, whose combative qualities stood out more than usual in a game of woefully poor standards, spoiled by a tendency in both sides to surrender possession through sloppy passing and slipshod control.

Indeed, it was as a direct result of a mistake that Batty's chance arose. Had he not been given the ball by Alan Wright he could not have delivered the cross that Simon Grayson obligingly headed back to his feet 13 minutes into the second period, setting up an instant strike to which Bosnich got both hands but could not keep out.

Newcastle were not outstanding but Villa were dreadful, their romp against West Bromwich Albion in the Cup having failed to change the worsening pattern of their form in the Premiership, in which they have achieved only one victory since early December and are close to being sucked into the relegation struggle.

Dwight Yorke's availability spared Little the need to score a political own goal by naming the disgraced Savo Milosevic in his line-up, but the Trinidadian's partnership with Stan Collymore in a two-man front line was unproductive. Yorke threatened occasionally, which could not be said of his pounds 7m team-mate, but Shaka Hislop did not have need to make a single save.

The closest Villa were to scoring came in the wake of another error, committed by Steve Howey, whose first-half stumble allowed Yorke a run at goal. Nothing came of it directly but the consequential corner, hit long by Mark Draper, was headed back across goal by Riccardo Scimeca to Ian Taylor, who missed an inviting chance by heading over from close range.

"We're definitely concerned," said Little. "This was a bad result for us. A lot of teams are in it but you know you'll be criticised if you're in the wrong part of the table, and you deserve that."

Goal: Batty (58) 0-1.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Scimeca; Grayson, Draper, Hendrie, Taylor, Wright (Joachim, 68); Yorke, Collymore. Substitutes not used: Charles, Nelson, Byfield, Oakes (gk).

Newcastle United: (4-4-2): Hislop; Watson, Howey, Pearce, Pistone; Gillespie, Batty, Lee, Beresford; Shearer, Andersson (Tomasson, 83). Substitutes not used: Ketsbaia, Albert, Griffinl, Given (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Man of the match: Batty.

Attendance: 38,266.