Heskey comes to Houllier's rescue

Aston Villa 2 West Bromwich Albion 1
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Whether or not Richard Dunne really did launch a verbal tirade against Gérard Houllier and Gary McAllister, the manager's assistant, at training on Friday at least one thing is certain. In footballing terms, Villa did not miss the veteran defender on Saturday.

In fact, anybody who saw their respective performances against Liverpool and West Bromwich will wonder how Dunne will ever displace Carlos Cuellar again. Expletive-laden volley or not. "It's my job to make big decisions," was Houllier's answer when questioned why Dunne was dropped after the debacle at Anfield. He then went on to praise Cuellar's attitude.

Meanwhile, rumours continued to emerge of a bust-up, which reportedly featured Dunne labelling Houllier's training methods a "joke" and tactics "desperate". The word is that Dunne, the sometime captain, set out on his critique with the squad's backing, who held a group meeting on Wednesday to which Houllier was not invited. All very intriguing and, at the same, all very worrying for Houllier's teetering regime. Yet, in truth, this 90 minutes will have improved the attitude of everybody but the visitors and the most mutinous at Villa Park.

It was a curious derby atmosphere which eventually gave way to full-throated relief when Villa hung on for their first win in five League games.

As the rumblings in the background doubtless continue, Houllier will look to the returning players from the injury list and the sort of performance Ashley Young put in in the second half for an upturn in Villa's fortunes.

After Villa had ridden their luck in a first half West Brom dominated, Young came into his own and Emile Heskey was inevitably to be the hero as his 80th minute header gave Villa the cushion to survive the late rally triggered by Paul Scharner's riposte.

The big man came to his old manager's rescue after fluffing a few early on, continuing a resurgence which has seen him score four from his last seven.

Scorers: Aston Villa Downing 25, Heskey 80. West Brom Scharner 89. Subs: Aston Villa Reo-Coker (Bannan, 73), Delfouneso (Heskey, 83), Herd (Albrighton, 90). Unused Guzan (gk), Dunne, Pires, Carew. West Bromwich: Miller (Morrison,75), Cox (Fortune, 86), Reid (Jara, 87). Unused Myhill (gk), Pablo, Shorey, Mulumbu.Man of the match Young Match rating 6/10. Possession Aston Villa 48% West Brom 52%. Shots on target Aston Villa 3 West Brom 4.

Referee M Halsey (Lancashire). Att 37,015.