Agbonlahor grabs late winner for Villa
Birmingham 0 Aston Villa 1
Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor scored a late winner to settle a scrappy west Midlands derby against Birmingham at St Andrews.
Agbonlahor struck with six minutes remaining to lift Martin O'Neill's side into sixth place in the Barclays Premier League.
City had dominated the second period but failed to create anything of note to trouble Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel and they paid for their lacklustre display when Agbonlahor pounced to score from close-range.
Villa, with three debutants in defence, James Collins, Richard Dunne and Steven Warnock, coped easily with Birmingham's initial advances into their half.
It was the visitors who had the first real chance to get on the scoresheet in the seventh minute when Gabriel Agbonlahor slipped the ball to James Milner inside the penalty area.
But the Villa midfielder wanted too much time and his right-foot shot was well wide of Joe Hart's right-hand upright.
But City bounced back immediately and Villa were forced into some desperate defending as shots from Gary O'Connor and Sebastien Larsson were prevented from reaching their target.
There were plenty of fierce tackles in the opening exchanges but referee Howard Webb did well to keep things under control instead of resorting to a flurry yellow cards.
Both sides struggled to gain control in the midfield but the home side, boosted by the speed of James McFadden on the left and the work-rate of Larsson on the right, often had Villa on the back foot.
In the 21st minute though it was Villa's Milner again who squandered a great chance to put the visitors in front.
Agbonlahor's pace again proved too much for the City defence and when his low cross arrived into the penalty area, Milner's first-time effort scuffed off his boot and out of play.
City's first real opening arrived on the half-hour when a neat flick-on by O'Connor put Lee Bowyer in the clear.
The City midfielder tested Brad Friedel in the Villa goal with stinging right-foot drive that the American keeper did will to punch to safety.
Moments later a long range effort from Keith Fahey flashed just wide of Friedel's left-hand upright.
But anything City could muster, Villa were eager to match and within seconds Milner sent a 20-yard drive wide of the target at the opposite end.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between with Villa's new-look defence repelling City's advances comfortably.
Referee Webb did well to keep a yellow card inside his pocket when Larsson felled Ashley Young in the 40th minute.
But Villa almost made City pay seconds later when Young's cross was met at the far post by Milner.
But yet again the Villa's midfielder failed to get his shot on target even though he was completely unmarked at the far post.
Agbonlahor then headed wide of the target when Young sent over a cross from the right wing.
City replaced James McFadden with Lee Carsley at the start of the second-half.
In the 51st minute, Steve Sidwell was booked for bringing down Larsson in full flight.
Three minutes later substitute Carsley tested Friedel with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area but the American keeper was equal to the task.
City were enjoying a long spell of possession but there was little end product.
Another shot from Carsley failed to trouble Friedel but it was a similar story at the opposite end with City's defence holding firm against Villa's sporadic forays into their half.
Agbonlahor sprinted towards the City rearguard in the 64th minute but he soon found himself in a blind alley as he ran out of steam and ideas.
Moments later the Villa striker found himself in the referee's notebook for a foul on Franck Queudrue.
Agbonlahor could have no complaints as he clearly shoved the City defender to the ground as he raced on to the ball.
The game was crying out for some quality on the ball but it was not supplied by Bowyer. The City midfielder tried his luck from 25-yards out but his effort was well wide of the target in the 67th minute.
But Villa were living dangerously. James Collins twice failed to clear his lines and then Milner was forced to foul Fahey as City applied more pressure.
But Larsson's resultant free-kick, although directed into the centre of the penalty area, failed to bring any success.
In the 77th minute Warnock's cross found Sidwell at the far post but his header was straight into the arms of City keeper Hart.
Three minutes later Milner sent a right-foot shot towards the bottom corner from 20-yards but Hart managed to dive low to his left to keep it out.
But the deadlock was finally broken in the 84th minute when Young's free-kick was nodded back by substitute John Carew for Agbonlahor to apply the necessary finish from close range.
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