Hull City 0 Aston Villa 1: Barry spares Villa's blushes as Hull fail to make an impact

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The Independent Football

After their humbling at Doncaster Rovers in the Carling Cup, Villa returned to Yorkshire with some trepidation but were spared another round of embarrassing explanations by Gareth Barry's second-half goal.

The stand-in left-back's 61st-minute strike was helped on its way by a deflection but Villa were comfortably the better side and a wider margin of victory would not have flattered them.

Hull, missing their most creative player after Nick Barmby was withdrawn with a calf strain, looked like the fledgling Championship side they are, rarely threatening until the second half.

Villa had been so poor in succumbing to Doncaster, a level further down in League One, that their manager, David O'Leary, could offer no excuses. Here he was able to reflect with quiet satisfaction.

"We let ourselves down badly at Doncaster," he said. "But our form in the League since then has been good and we are answering the critics with what we do on the field. We were a little fortunate in the manner of our goal but we could have scored a few more."

Beaten by Sheffield United on another red-faced occasion at the equivalent stage last season, Villa were wary of underestimating the threat posed by Peter Taylor's team. But their journey to Yorkshire came on the back of an improving picture in the Premiership, where a campaign that had been essentially nondescript has shown signs belatedly of blossoming.

The form of Steven Davis has been a beacon in their midfield throughout but now the likes of Lee Hendrie, Gavin McCann and, especially, James Milner, are playing with confidence. Taylor likes his teams to play but it was no surprise that his plan to win a technical battle of passing and movement took Hull nowhere.

Villa were in full control of the opening 45 minutes, during which the home side enjoyed so little possession in the creative areas that their strikers, Billy Paynter and Craig Fagan, were largely non-participants.

The visitors were without Milan Baros, suspended, but welcomed back Juan Pablo Angel, who was narrowly offside after 16 minutes when he fired home Milner's low pass from 10 yards out. Milner had already gone close himself after a neat exchange with Angel and the pattern seemed set for a comfortable Villa win.

For one reason or another, though, their dominance of the first half did not translate to goals. Boaz Myhill, the American goalkeeper who had begun his career at Villa, pulled off a couple of decent saves, from Hendrie's volley and then Davis' long-range dipper; another couple of shots went narrowly wide and Olof Mellberg, jumping well at a corner, squandered a good chance with his head.

The advantage came only after Hull, who had shown nothing at all until Fagan almost hooked the ball past Thomas Sorensen on the stroke of half-time, at last began to make forward progress. Under pressure for the first time, Villa saw Paynter and Jason Price have shots saved, while Hendrie had to clear a header from Leon Cort, the centre-back, from under his crossbar.

But just as it seemed an upset might be in the offing, Barry made his mark, ending a run from inside his own half by taking aim from 20 yards and though the ball hit Price en route it might have beaten Myhill anyway.

Substitute Stuart Elliott thumped a header wide as Hull sought a way back but thereafter Villa always looked like the side going through.