By Rob Bishop
Darren Bent was the 18th-minute man as he marked his debut by plundering the goal which gave Villa a memorable victory over Manchester City at Villa Park.
The club's record signing took centre stage with a vengeance, winning the hearts of the claret and blue faithful with an opportunist goal which justified manager Gerard Houllier's decision to bring him down from Sunderland earlier this week.
After Bent had made the vital breakthrough there were some heart-stopping moments as high-riding City went in search of an equaliser.
But some resolute defending, epitomised by an immense performance by James Collins, ensured that Villa claimed three invaluable points.
Although the visitors opened confidently, it was Villa who produced the first goal attempt, Richard Dunne climbing to meet Ashley Young's deep fifth-minute free-kick with a header which was too high.
Supporters behind the goal were convinced the ball hit Jerome Boateng on its way over but referee Howard Webb awarded a goal kick.
Left-back Aleksandar Kolarov posed City's first two threats, curling a free-kick just beyond the far post before whipping across a right-wing corner with considerable power. It nearly paid dividends, too, Carlos Tevez just failing to connect right in front of goal.
That one was much too close for comfort but Villa made the most of the let-off by taking the lead almost immediately.
Gabby Agbonlahor's tenacity instigated the move, the wide boy winning possession from Boateng before playing a short pass to Ashley Young, whose low, right-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area was tipped aside by keeper Joe Hart.
Bent was perfectly positioned to drill home the rebound from six yards - and the new boy did so in emphatic fashion as his right foot delivered what will hopefully be the first of many goals in claret and blue.
Five minutes later, Brad Friedel came to Villa's rescue with an instinctive save, the American keeper tipping over Vincent Kompany's firm near-post header, although there was little Friedel could do when Gareth Barry met Boateng's cross from the right with a glancing header which sneaked just past the right-hand post.
Even so, Villa finished the opening period stronger, Young's low drive and Stewart Downing's 30-yard free-kick both being well held by Hart.
But it was inevitable that City would come out strongly at the start of the second half and James Collins needed to display his defensive resolve twice in the space of a few minutes.
The Welsh centre-back restricted Tevez's space to the extent that the City star's shot was well off target, and then he got in the way of an effort from Edin Dzeko at the expense of a corner.
The danger had not passed, however, and Dzeko wasn't far off target with his header from Koralov's flag-kick.
Collins again came to the rescue just past the hour mark when he blocked a Tevez shot, although the clearance only went as far as Boateng, whose angled drive from the right-hand corner was pushed out by Friedel.
Albrighton almost capitalised on Hart's poor clearance on 64 minutes, only for Kompany's block tackle to nullify the danger, but two minutes later Villa were close to a second goal.
Ciaran Clark played the ball to Bent down the left and the debut boy held off a challenge before touching it inside to Stiliyan Petrov.
The skipper, in turn, threaded a pass through to Young, whose stringing low drive from the edge of the area was tipped away for a corner by Hart as the keeper dived to his right.
After Carlos Cuellar's challenge on Dzeko had taken the ball away for a corner, a Villa counter attack saw Downing exchange passes with Albrighton before having his shot well held by Hart.
City were soon back on the offensive, Nigel De Jong's 20-yard effort deflecting off Clark and hitting the post and Dzeko heading wide before Kolarov's drive deflected wickedly off Cuellar and flew past the left hand post with Friedel diving the other way.
Yet Villa almost doubled their lead near the end when Albrighton crossed low from the right and Young stabbed just wide of the near post - although he was adamant it should have been a corner.
As the final whistle sounded, though, no-one really cared - least of all delirious home fans.
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