James Collins (far left) gives Villa the lead on 24 minutes
By Alistair Magowan
Aston Villa eased their relegation worries with a victory over Newcastle which takes them five points clear of the Premier League's bottom three.
Following chances for Joey Barton and Nile Ranger, Villa scored against the run of play when James Collins headed in Ashley Young's free-kick.
But that encouraged the hosts, who went close to doubling their lead through Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent.
Newcastle offered little but Peter Lovenkrands' late header was saved.
After a tame second half for the visitors, Lovenkrands also went close to levelling in stoppage time but his shot was stopped by Villa keeper Brad Friedel.
Although the encounter was bathed in sunshine, the match failed to reach boiling point but that will be of little concern to Gerard Houllier's team, who took a huge step forward before they face crucial matches against their relegation rivals.
Houllier hails 'massive win'
Villa had plenty of opportunities to make the game safe after a shaky start and despite not reaching any great heights, they were resolute enough to take control of the game in the second half.
On this evidence they will certainly face tougher tests, as a depleted Newcastle side seemed to bask in the relative security of being ninth in the table.
Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner had backed manager Houllier during the week and asked for the fans to get behind their team as they looked to steer themselves away from the relegation zone.
To that end, the home supporters were in good voice to begin with, but it was Newcastle who started the game in the ascendancy, with Barton putting a diving header over the top from Jose Enrique's cross.
Ranger also had a good chance for the visitors soon after but he chose to shoot when Lovenkrands was better placed.
Then, against the run of play, Villa took the lead, with Barton involved as he brought Ashley Young down on Villa's left.
Even though the temporary Newcastle skipper protested against the decision to referee Stuart Attwell, Young swung in the free-kick and Collins flicked his header past Steve Harper.
The goal enraged Barton and he came close to being booked for arguing for a Young handball minutes later.
Pardew blames injuries for defeat
The goal instilled confidence in the hosts, with Downing firing over on the half hour and the right midfielder providing a cross which Bent could not keep on target.
Just before the break Villa were denied a second goal when Bent had the ball in the net, although he was ruled offside after Jean Makoun's clever pass.
And Villa continued their growing momentum into the second period when Agbonlahor was put in huge swathes of space on the left by the returning Stiliyan Petrov, but Harper made a fine save to stop the striker's shot.
Without the suspended Kevin Nolan and Cheik Tiote and the injured Leon Best, Newcastle were offering little in attack and Villa sensed an opportunity to settle their nerves with Young looking dangerous on the left.
Despite further attempts by Agbonlahor and Young, however, they could not find the goal to reward their endeavour.
It mattered little as Newcastle's challenge faded and Villa began to dominate the game in midfield, and it was only Barton's continued sense of injustice that offered the visitors any spark in a tame contest.
Lovenkrands twice went closest to levelling matters late on but his header and then shot were comfortably saved by Friedel.
Villa spent most of the second period probing from wide areas and had a succession of corners but despite their profligacy they will be glad to overturn the 6-0 hammering they suffered at St James' Park in August following former boss Martin O'Neill's departure
And they will retire to reflect on next week's match against West Ham, content that they are heading in the right direction.
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