A first-half goal from Norwegian striker John Carew was enough to earn Aston Villa a narrow but deserved victory over struggling Hull.
Carew found space in the box to divert in an Ashley Young left-wing cross with his instep to break the deadlock.
Boaz Myhill spared Hull from a heavier defeat with a number of good saves, including a superb point-blank parry from Gabriel Agbonlahor.
The closest Hull came to scoring was an easily saved Daniel Cousin shot.
Both these sides saw their form from the season's halfway point in 2009 put paid to their respective aspirations.
Villa had realistic designs of Champions League qualification, while Hull were basking in a mid-table spot earned through a series of unlikely but impressive victories.
Villa can take some solace from the fact that this victory - their first in 10 Premier League games - assures them a place in next season's Europa League.
O'Neill delighted to win at last
However, Hull remain bottom of the top-flight form table and perilously close to the drop zone - saved only from such a fate by the poor results of others over the weekend.
It could have been very different had Ian Ashbee's volley found the back of the net instead of flashing agonisingly wide.
In a high tempo opening, Villa came close to scoring themselves as Stiliyan Petrov's right-wing cross was glanced across goal and just wide by Carew.
Villa spent the majority of the half in the ascendancy but did not create the chances their possession warranted and it was another 15 minutes before Myhill was called upon - palming a 25-yard James Milner free-kick over the bar.
But from their next attack the home side broke the deadlock as Petrov and Gareth Barry robbed Hull's former Villa midfielder George Boateng and fed Young, whose cross was diverted in by Carew.
In the final action of the half, three minutes into injury time, Agbonlahor broke free from his marker but his shot was palmed past the post by Myhill.
Myhill continued to frustrate Villa in the second half as firstly Barry drew a good one-handed save from the keeper and then he denied Milner with a low parry.
He surpassed all previous saves though with 15 minutes to go when he was on hand at point-blank range to push over a Agbonlahor header after Curtis Davies had nodded the ball back across goal.
Hull's best move of the match came shortly afterwards when a cross from the right found Cousin and he hooked a shot on target that Nick Barmby - who replaced Giovanni at half time - was inches away from turning home.
Brown heartened by battling Hull
Soon after Andy Dawson floated a free-kick over and Kamil Zayatte got the tiniest of touches with his studs in a packed penalty area but Friedel again got down low to save with ease.
In a frantic five minutes of injury time Hull had a series of corners - the last of which Myhill came forward for - but they could not capitalise on any of them.
Villa did Hull no favours in this game but they could yet play a more positive part in the Tigers' bid for survival as they still have Hull's relegation rivals Middlesbrough and Newcastle to play in the run-in.
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill: "Obviously, there's a lot of relief. It's been a long time coming but we deserved it tonight.
"We have played really well in some games but have conceded late goals to draw games we should have won.
"It's been a great experience - but we want to press on and finish fifth. We've done remarkably well."
Hull manager Phil Brown: "We deserved something from the game, no doubt about it, and if we get the same effort on Saturday, Stoke have got a game on their hands.
"I can't fault the players' commitment in the second half.
"It was a big night because the bottom three lost but they don't come any bigger than the game against Stoke."
Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young, Davies, Knight, Shorey, Milner, Petrov (Reo-Coker 90), Barry, Ashley Young (Gardner 90), Carew (Heskey 86), Agbonlahor. Subs Not Used: Guzan, Sidwell, Delfouneso, Clark.
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