Wigan Athletic 1 Aston Villa 2: Agbonlahor and Young keep the Houllier revival going

26 January 2011 12:24
The relegation zone may be unfamiliar territory for Gerard Houllier, but it at least proved a mercifully brief stay for the former Liverpool manager after a second straight win lifted Aston Villa six points clear of trouble.

Hard cash has played a significant role in an overdue Villa revival, after owner Randy Lerner finally loosened previously taut purse strings and sanctioned the £30million arrival of Darren Bent and Jean Makoun.

Ashley Young's silky skills were just as influential in adding to a hard-earned 1-0 weekend win over Manchester City, though, as Villa struck with two goals in 10 second-half minutes. They then withstood a late Wigan rally sparked by a fortuitous 80th-minute strike by James McCarthy.

Villa thriller: Ashley Young fires home from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 to Aston Villa

Just when Villa needed a skipper's input, Young provided it with a 50th-minute run that led to his side's opener and nerveless penalty that gave a two-goal cushion.

With Bent looking intent on disproving the widely held view that a £24m fee may have been too much, and Makoun showing neat touches in central midfield prior to his 57th-minute withdrawal, Houllier had good reason for greeting the final whistle with a smile.

A warm handshake for Bent, and pat on the back, counted as the Houllier seal of approval, and the Villa boss was still glowing as he reflected on a change in his side's fortunes.

Dream team: Darren Bent (left), Ashely Young (centre) and Gabriel Agbonlahor celebrate Villa's success

'Ashley is very proud to have been made captain, and you can see how he is responding to the responsibility it brings,' he said. 'I took him off near the end because he had given everything. No-one covers more ground than him, and when you think of his contribution at a vital time, it's just what you want from your skipper.

'I am delighted at the way Darren has made an immediate impact. Sometimes when you recruit a player, it takes him five or six games before he scores and settles in. But Darren scored a vital goal in his first game and showed again tonight he can play an important part in our offensive setup. His movement is very good, and even when he doesn't score, he's helping others.

'The important thing now is to stay humble and keep working. You just can't take anything for granted in this league, but I do feel we are looking physically fitter and mentally stronger.'

Head boy: Gabriel Agbonlahor (centre) leaps to nod in Villa's opener

Bent's eye for goal forced Villa's hand over Sunderland's asking price, and he nearly added to his weekend winner in the sixth minute, with a great piece of control from Carlos Cuellar's quickly taken freekick and a shot that forced a diving save from Ali Al Habsi.

There is another, less heralded side to his game, though, and, after Villa heaved a sigh of relief at seeing a typically explosive run and shot from Charles N'Zogbia just fail to hit the target, it came to the fore for his side's 50th-minute breakthrough.

An expertly timed pass sent Young scurrying clear of Maynor Figueroa and set him up for a drive that was heading for the top corner, until Al Habsi tipped it to safety.

Debutant: Villa's new £6m signing Jean Makoun started at the DW Stadium

Match Facts WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-4-2): Al Habsi 7;Boyce 6 (Stam 67min, 6), Gohouri 6, S Caldwell 6, Figueroa 6; N'Zogbia 7,McCarthy 7 (McManaman 85), Thomas 5 (Watson 67, 6), McArthur 6; Di Santo 6, Rodallega 5.

Subs not used: Pollitt, Moses, Gomez, Diame.

Booked: Figueroa, Gohouri.

ASTON VILLA (4-5-1): Friedel 6; Cuellar 7, Dunne 6, Collins 6, Baker 6; Downing 7, Young 8 (Herd 88), Reo-Coker 7, Makoun 6 (Petrov 57, 6), Agbonlahor 6 (Albrighton 77); Bent 7.

Subs not used: Marshall, Pires, Delfouneso, Heskey.

Booked: Makoun, Friedel, Cuellar.

Man of the match: Ashley Young.

Referee: Jon Moss 7.

Any sense of frustration was soonbanished, as Young's far-post delivery from the resulting corner wasmet by a thumping Cuellar header that once more brought out the best inAl Habsi. There was no reprieve for the Wigan keeper this time, though,as his parried save fell for the lurking Gabriel Agbonlahor to headhome.

There looked to be no way back forWigan 10 minutes later, when Hendry Thomas lunged in needlessly, asYoung nicked the ball away from him on the right of the area, and sentthe Villa winger sprawling for the clearest of penalties.

Young clambered to his feet andcomposed himself before drilling the spot-kick straight down themiddle, just as Al Habsi sprang to his left.

But Wigan had other ideas aboutYoung's penalty signalling the end of matters and set up a grandstandfinale with a goal out of nothing from fit-again midfielder McCarthy 10minutes from time.

Back in action after a three-month lay-off, the Scot's hopeful effort looked to be heading for Brad Friedel's gloves, until taking a deflecton off James Collins and leaving the Villa keeper wrong-footed.

Sensing the chance to claw their way back on to terms, Wigan went for an equaliser and should have had one in the 87th minute, when substitute Ben Watson blazed over after being set up by N'Zogbia.

It looked a shade too close for comfort for most Villa followers, but not Houllier, who brushed aside any misgivings, and said: 'We never panicked at the end, and that pleased me as much as anything.'

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez added: 'Obviously it is a feeling of disappointment because we didn't get the result we wanted.

'The game probably went away from us too quickly because we looked like a team that with more time we could have got something.'

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 Explore more:People: Darren Bent, Ashley Young, Gerard Houllier, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Carlos Cuellar, James McCarthy, Roberto Martinez, Ben Watson Places: Liverpool

Source: Daily_Mail