Angel delivers perfect present to keep Villa in the hunt

Aston Villa 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Football

The cacophony of whistling that filled Villa Park in the final seconds said everything about how much the home fans wanted and needed a victory which keeps their team in the running for a European place.

Villa's tenure of the fourth Champions League qualifying spot lasted for little more than an hour as Liverpool reclaimed their position with a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough, but the season remains heady with possibility.

For the manager who has energised Villa, David O'Leary, there were mixed emotions on what was his 46th birthday, as his satisfaction in earning three crucial points was tempered by regret over the relegation of the team he left two years ago, Leeds United.

"It's very sad," he said. "I can't understand how it has happened because there are still far too many quality players there for them to go down. I would have thought they would have finished in the top 10 at least. This is a team that finished above Aston Villa last season, and they've lost one player from last season. It's a sad day for the supporters, but hopefully they will get back as soon as possible."

He accepts, however, that Leedsface losing some of their quality players. "You wouldn't have to be a genius to work out that those players won't want to be playing in the First Division," he said, adding that he had had some contact with his old personnel. "In the most diplomatic way I have been getting friendly text messages to the ex-boss," he said with a twinkle. "I have got quite a few of them from quite a few people - good people as well."

But O'Leary ruled out making any bid for players such as Alan Smith or Mark Viduka. "The money isn't there," he said. "It's out of my jurisdiction."

The form of the two principal rivals for European qualification, Liverpool and Newcastle, is also out of O'Leary's jurisdiction, although the meeting of those sides in the last game of the season could yet prove to be crucial to his ambitions.

What O'Leary has done, palpably, is get a side that contains no new faces other than Nolberto Solano to play to something close to their full potential.

Anything other than a Villa win would have been a travesty, as a Spurs side whose Premiership survival was ensured by Leeds' defeat at Bolton proved second best in almost every area.

Villa began as they meant to go on in front of 42,573, their equal best gate of the year, taking the lead within five minutes following a free kick from deep on the right by the excellent Thomas Hitzlsperger. The ball carried to the far post, where the equally excellent Gareth Barry nodded it back across goal for Juan Pablo Angel to launch himself forward and head over the line.

Villa should have settled the game within the opening five minutes of the second half, when Hitzlsperger's dipping shot crashed off the bar and then Barry and Gavin McCann drove efforts narrowly wide.

"It would have been much more comfortable if we had been three or four up," said O'Leary. "But we've got two matches left - away to Southampton and home to Manchester United - and we are going to try and win both."

Fifth place looks the more likely target, which would earn a Uefa Cup place. Tottenham, meanwhile, require major attention under whoever manages them next season, although caretaker boss, David Pleat, denied they had been concerned about relegation.

"We seriously didn't think we were in trouble," he said. "We've had a terrible run recently, but we deserve to be in the Premiership because we've had some good runs as well."

Goal: Angel (5) 1-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen 7; De La Cruz 7, Mellberg 6, Ridgewell 7, Samuel 7; Solano 5 (Delaney, 90), McCann 7, Hitzlsperger 7, Barry 8; Crouch 6 (Dublin, 85), Angel 6 (Allback, 5, 68). Subs not used: Postma (gk), Whittingham.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-3-1-2): Keller 4; Kelly 3 (Ricketts 3, 70), Richards 5, Gardner 5, Taricco 5; Davies 5, Redknapp 6, Brown 4; Keane 6; Kanoute 3 (Doherty 5, 78), Defoe 6. Subs not used: Bunjevcevic, Mabizela, Hirschfeld (gk).

Referee: N Barry 7.

Bookings: Aston Villa: McCann, Sorensen. Tottenham Hotspur : Defoe.

Man of the match: Barry.

Attendance: 42,573