Gerard Houllier praises Aston Villa team spirit

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Gerard Houllier praised the "fantastic team spirit" of his Aston Villa players as James Collins' header earned a vital win over Newcastle in the battle for Barclays Premier League survival.

The Welsh international's third goal of the campaign settled the Villa Park clash and gave the midlands club revenge for a 6-0 mauling by the Magpies in August.

It also moved Villa five points clear of the bottom three as they survived a late rally in which Brad Friedel made two fine saves to deny Peter Lovenkrands an equaliser.

Houllier said: "I think we deserved it. We showed desire, commitment and fighting, battling qualities, which are a must in this sort of situation.

"Maybe we weren't enough relaxed at times but I think that's down to the pressure.

"When you have pressure, the team fighting spirit plays a big part.

"You can't have egos or someone who has lost the plot. The team performance comes above everything else.

"I thought they all worked for each other. There's a distinction to make between working together and working for each other.

"The effort of everyone today was fantastic."

Collins and his centre-back partner Richard Dunne were fined for their behaviour towards members of the coaching staff at a recent team bonding session.

But the duo showed they are integral members of the Villa team.

Houllier said: "This incident is past, over, finished.

"I am experienced enough to put that to one side and they did the same.

"Their commitment in training was revealing, that they want this club to go forward.

"I was very pleased for James Collins because he and Richard Dunne travel forward a lot for set-pieces but don't always get the reward they deserve.

"But the movement and connection on the ball by Collins for the goal was good."

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew was unhappy at Villa winger Ashley Young after winning the free-kick which led to Collins' winner.

Pardew hinted that Young went to ground too easily after a clash with Newcastle skipper Joey Barton who was incensed by the decision.

Pardew said: "Young is the most fouled player in the division.

"We kept saying, you touch him and he goes over, and that was in Joey's mind.

"It was something we talked about. He hardly touched him and down he went again. That happens to be a fact.

"I didn't think it was a free-kick if that is what you are asking me.

"Joey is going to argue decisions and make his opinion felt if he thinks he's been wronged."

Houllier was quick to defend Young over Pardew's comments.

He said: "It was a free-kick and even the fourth official said it was a free-kick.

"He definitely didn't go down cheaply. Even the fourth official confirmed that. No, no, no.

"Ashley is a tricky player. He is like an eel."