Heskey heads Villain the right direction

Aston Villa 2 West Bromwich Albion 1: Ex-Anfield striker stirs happier memories for Houllier as Di Matteo suffers

Gérard Houllier was not about to admit it, but this vital victory for Villa must have made him quite emotional as he thought back to his Anfield days. Emile Heskey was essentially his match-winner. Fancy that, after all those years his old Liverpool striker eventually coming good for him.

Blimey, how this was needed. Not just for the three points which broke a run of three defeats and hauled Villa up to 13th, but for the manager.The week began with the Villa fans accusing Houllier of ignoring them as he waved to the Liverpool fans on his return there, and also berating him for his ill-advised "If we had to lose 3-0 I'm glad it was against them" quip. It ended with the Villa fans celebrating a derby success.

"The defeat to Liverpool hurt," said Houllier, keen to re-emphasise how much he cared. "There is a feeling of relief. We were a bit shaky at times, but I must say I was pleased with the attitude. It wasn't easy for the players after the bad patch."

In truth, Villa were anything but impressive as they hauled themselves out of it, withstanding a late rally just as they had weathered an early onslaught. But with players still coming back from injury there was plenty of promise to take into a Christmas period which features Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City. Houllier showed he means action by dropping Richard Dunne yesterday.

Neither was this disastrous for West Bromwich, despite them remaining winless in the nine Premier League games they have played against their neighbours. "I was very pleased with the first half – it was difficult to see them score really," said their manager, Roberto Di Matteo. "We deserved more than we got today. We feel hard done by."

Indeed, Di Matteo has every right to long wonder how his side were down after 25 minutes, such had been their domination. The visiting five-man midfield were enjoying the freedom of Villa Park and chances fell for Chris Brunt, Paul Scharner and Marc-Antoine Fortuné. But it was the extraordinary Somen Tchoyi who came closest.

The Cameroonian is built like a centre-half, but is in fact a fleet-footed winger. In the 17th minute, with some scintillating footwork, he went past defender after defender, before beating James Collins twice and curling a left-footer past the bewildered Brad Friedel. The sound of the rattling crossbar denied Tchoyi a third cracker in as many games and Villa were somehow still level. Withineight minutes they had turned this undeserved parity into a lead.

The mistake came from Graham Dorrans in the Albion midfield, losing the ball from a throw-in and allowing Marc Albrighton to take it to the byline. His cross was flicked on by Ashley Young and Stewart Downing beat Gonzalo Jara to the far post to squeeze the ball home. It was the England man's sixth goal of a campaign in which he has been one of Villa's few notable performers.

Shaken, Albion were only partiallystirred and the confidence seeped from their legs and the zip abandoned their play. James Morrison did blaze one opportunity wide, but by the second half the narrative had flip-flopped. Young began to wield his influence, the captain of the day at least edging towards his irresistible best. Heskey should have turned in one Young centre, although his time was coming.

In the 80th minute, Albrighton crossed and Heskey nodded in from close range after a James Collins flick across goal. It appeared slightly fortuitous but was warranted. He had not played for a month after knee surgery, but his work both in attack and defence was tireless.

Villa could certainly have done with his size in the final stages when Paul Scharner towered high to head in Brunt's corner. It set up a tense finish, and when Thomas ran through nerves were pinging all around the famous stadium. But he fired over and Villa – and yes, Houllier – could at last breathe easier.

Substitutes: Aston Villa: Reo-Coker for Bannan (73), Delfouneso for Heskey (83), Herd for Albrighton (90). West Bromwich: Miller for Morrison (75), Cox for Fortuné (86), Reid for Jara (87).

Bookings: West Bromwich: Jara, Thomas.

Attendance: 36,745

Referee: Mark Halsey

Man of the match: A Young

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there