Football: Ward makes Villa pay for profligacy

Aston Villa 0 Barnsley 1
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ALL of a sudden, Everton and Tottenham can feel Barnsley's hot breath on their necks. Ashley Ward's eighth goal of the season, underpinned by some defiant defending and profligate finishing by Aston Villa, took Danny Wilson's side to within two points of the Premiership safety zone last night with a game in hand.

Barnsley had not won away from Oakwell since they stunned Liverpool in November, yet their performance at Villa Park confirmed the impression that they are belatedly coming to terms with life among the monied elite. Wilson hailed it as "a massive win", saying: "We've got some hard work to do to survive, but it pleased me that every chance Villa had, they were put under pressure."

His opposite number, John Gregory, was left to rue Villa's first defeat in three League matches since he succeeded Brian Little. Gregory, whose new charges would have been virtually free of relegation fears had they beaten Barnsley and followed up with three points against Crystal Palace on Saturday, admitted that the evening gave him an insight into why Villa have struggled this season. They spurned a succession of chances in the second half, though Gregory felt the contest had been won and lost by then.

What proved to be the decisive moment arrived in the 17th minute following a slick build-up which had its origins in Barnsley's right-back position. Scott Jones and Martin Bullock were both involved, the latter threading a pass through to Ward. The burly striker veered past Gareth Southgate before unleashing a drive which Mark Bosnich reached but could not keep out.

By then Villa had already missed one gilt-edged opportunity when Ian Taylor failed to convert a free header. Soon after Ward struck, Dave Watson parried Lee Hendrie's goalbound drive, and although Bosnich did well to keep out a Darren Barnard shot, the second half was one-way traffic.

Two of the best chances fell to Ugo Ehiogu, who saw Watson tip over a powerful header and later glanced the ball wide from an easier opportunity. Darren Byfield, with his first touch as substitute, was also off target.

In the final, desperate moments, Taylor again squandered an aerial opportunity. Watson then touched a Steve Staunton free-kick on to the woodwork and kept out Hendrie's shot in stoppage time.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton; Grayson (Byfield, 57), Taylor, Draper, Hendrie, Wright (Nelson, 81); Joachim, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Charles, Collins, Oakes (gk).

Barnsley (3-5-2): Watson; Morgan, Moses, Jones; Eaden, Redfearn, Bullock, Sheridan, Barnard (Tinkler, 89); Fjortoft (Liddell, 61), Ward. Substitutes not used: Marcelle, Liddell, Hristov, Leese (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).