Scottish Premier League

Mackay-Steven: Willo is main man

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Sun, 10 Feb 2013 15:34:00

Christian Benteke and Charles N'Zogbia combined to lift Aston Villa out of the Premier League relegation zone with a priceless 2-1 victory over West Ham at Villa Park.

Benteke showed no sign of nerves as he rolled home from the penalty spot to break the deadlock with 16 minutes to go after N'Zogbia had been tripped in the area by Mark Noble.

And the former Wigan and Newcastle man then stepped up to curl home an outstanding free-kick to double the advantage for Paul Lambert's men four minutes later.

There was a nervy finish in store for the home supporters as Ashley Westwood could only loop a header from Joe Cole's dangerous curling cross over Brad Guzan and into his own net with three minutes to go.

And in the last of four added minutes, the Villa goalkeeper was called into action to make a crucial save, blocking a close range shot from Kevin Nolan at his near post.

The victory sees Villa climb to 17th in the Premier League table, pushing Reading down into the bottom three but only one point adrift of the Midlands side.

The first half at Villa Park was an instantly forgettable affair, with the only incident of note coming in the opening exchanges, when Andreas Weimann produced one of the misses of the season in only the second minute.

Benteke fired in a shot from range, which Jussi Jaaskelainen failed to deal with, and it looked as though all Weimann had to do was roll the ball into the gaping goal, but he somehow fired wide of the target to widespread disbelief.

That incident seemed to shake the confidence of the young Austrian, and it was no surprise when he was replaced as part of a double change in the 63rd minute, with Darren Bent joining the fray.

The England international has struggled for opportunities this season, but he was immediately into the action, although perhaps not as he had expected, clearing off the line from Andy Carroll following Matt Taylor's corner.

Sam Allardyce's side looked to hit Carroll whenever possible, but the England international was well marshalled in the main by Ciaran Clark, who also produced two crucial clearances from under his own bar in a much-improved second half.

All the real drama was reserved for the closing 16 minutes, with Benteke and N'Zogbia putting the Holte End in full voice despite the dramatic conclusion, with Villa recording their first Premier League victory since the 3-1 win away to Liverpool on 15 December.

Midfielder Flood was again instrumental as new boss Jackie McNamara made it back-to-back victories with a 3-1 Premier League win over Hearts at Tannadice on Saturday.

Flood notched a quality second goal in the second half as new manager McNamara watched his side move into sixth place in the SPL thanks to Johnny Russell's second-minute strike and substitute Michael Gardyne's 89th-minute clincher.

Flood has been given a new lease of life since McNamara replaced departed boss Peter Houston recently, and Tangerines team-mate Mackay-Steven was quick to sing his praises after beating the Jambos.

He said: "Willo has been outstanding for us in the past two games.

"His goal was quality and his overall performance was of the highest order.

"Willo is big player for the club.

"He's the one who really gets everyone up for training every day and urges them on.

"Willo expects the highest standards from those around him and he's always there to do his bit as well.

"He looks as though he's really enjoying his football right now and long may that continue, along with the rest of the lads."

Mackay-Steven was on the receiving end of a controversial first-half challenge from Hearts midfielder Ryan Stevenson which earned the Tynecastle man a red card from referee Willie Collum.

Mackay-Steven felt it was harsh but vowed not to change his attacking ways.

He said: "I won't be changing my ways.

"That's how I play. I like taking players on as that's a big part of my game.

"Sometimes these kind of challenges happen but it doesn't put me off.

"We're on a decent wee run just now and just want to try to continue if for as long as possible.

"We've got a big game coming up away to Celtic next and we can hopefully go there with some confidence."

Meanwhile, Hearts manager John McGlynn may appeal Stevenson's sending-off once he watches it over again on television.

He said: "I'll have to see it again. When I do that then we can maybe look at appealing it.

"The people who've seen it thought it was a bit harsh but personally I would need to watch it for myself."

McNamara saluted his players for their second victory on the bounce since taking charge.

He said: "I've got to praise the lads for their effort and commitment.

"They started the game really well and my only disappointment was that we lost a goal."

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