Aston Villa leapfrogged Arsenal into the last Champions League placing on Tuesday as an own-goal by Kamil Zayatte gifted them a 1-0 victory over Hull City in the last Premier League match of the year.
Zayatte turned his attempted clearance from Ashley Young’s cross past goalkeeper Boaz Myhill to extend Villa’s unbeaten sequence to eight while Hull must be staring anxiously at the bottom three as they have only won once in their last 11 games.
They looked to be on course to salvage a point in time added on when referee Steve Bennett awarded them a penalty for handball but after consulting with a linesman he correctly rescinded his decision as Young had not handled the ball, though he did raise his arm as the ball went over the bar.
Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry praised Bennett after the match.
“That sort of decision doesn’t happen too often,” Barry said. “The referee deserves a lot of credit for changing his mind.”
Young said that his attempt to save the ball had been instinctive.
“I was on the post and it was a reflex reaction. It hit the bar and it went over,” he said.
“It’s a good feeling to be up there above Arsenal and level on points with Manchester United,” Young said.
Barry, though, was relieved to have got the three points which for long periods of the game didn’t seem likely.
“It was a very tough game,” Barry said.
“They [Hull] bounced back from two heavy defeats [4-1 to Sunderland and then 5-1 to Manchester City] and didn’t allow the game to get too stretched which is what they prefer,” he said.
Villa manager Martin O’Neill was delighted to have taken three points from a game that looked likely to end in a draw.
“I am absolutely delighted with the result because we didn’t play very well tonight,” the former Northern Ireland international said.
O’Neill while paying credit to Bennett for changing his mind was hoping that Young would not be quite so theatrical next time.
“I wasn’t best pleased with Young,” O’Neill said.
“It is not often I am not pleased with Young. However, he has said he would not do it again and I am hoping that is a promise and not a threat!” he said.
His Hull counterpart Phil Brown — who had been so infuriated by the abject display of his players in the first-half against Manchester City on Friday when they were losing 4-0 at half-time that he gave them their half-time talk on the pitch — accepted that his side had stepped up to the plate.
“This was a greatly improved performance,” Brown said. “I am proud of the players and the attitude they showed.”
Hull’s veteran former England striker Nicky Barmby thought he might have got the opener early in the first-half but Bennett adjudged correctly that he had barged Villa keeper Brad Friedel — who was making his 172nd successive Premier League appearance — before stabbing the ball home.
Indeed despite Villa playing the most creative soccer it was Hull that were slightly more effective in the danger areas and it took a desperate headed clearance by Curtis Davies 10 minutes from the break to stop Hull capitalizing on a fine move.
The second-half was a similar period to the first where Villa played the pretty football but were unable to impose themselves as Hull’s players stopped them every time they looked dangerous.