By Rob Bishop
Villa slumped to a depressing home defeat at the hands of West Midland rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, going down to a 37th-minute volley from Matt Jarvis.
It was the first time Villa have been beaten by Wolves in a Premier League match - and first time they have lost to the Molineux club since March 1980.
The result means Gerard Houllier's men are still looking anxiously over their shoulders, and there could be few complaints about the outcome as a below-strength Villa side struggled to find any rhythm.
True, they were denied what looked a clear penalty when record signing Darren Bent was brought down, only for referee Phil Dowd to award a free-kick outside the area.
Skipper Ashley Young was also unlucky with a tremendous shot which hit the underside the bar, but it was very much a day to forget.
Despite an enterprising start by Villa, it was the visitors who created the better chances in the opening minutes, Brad Friedel doing well to tip away a low left-foot drive from Nenad Milijas before pushing away Adam Hammill's dangerous right-wing cross.
Villa's first threat saw Carlos Cuellar venture forward to climb high at the near post and meet Young's corner with a header which wasn't far over.
Then Downing had a powerful drive changed down by Karl Henry just inside the penalty area, although Wolves thought they had taken the lead when Christophe Berra lunged to head in Hamill's cross from close range.
Fortunately, the Scottish defender was clearly offside, as were two of his team-mates.
A couple of fine crosses from the right threatened to bring reward for the Villa. The first, from Marc Albrighton, was well held by Wayne Hennessey, but the keeper was grateful to Kevin Foley when Kyle Walker delivered a menacing centre which eluded him a couple of minutes later.
With Downing moving in for the kill at the far post, the Wolves right-back did well to head away for corner. But just as Villa were getting on top, Wolves grabbed the lead.
A free-kick from Milijas was headed down by Berra, and Jarvis unleashed a right-foot angled volley which left Friedel helpless as it flew in off the far post.
That prompted a switch of wings between Albrighton and Downing, who quickly delivered two more fine crosses from the right. The first was punched clear by Hennessey, with Makoun heading the second wide from close range.
Two minutes into the second half, Albrighton made a promising run down the left but there was disappointment on the Holte End as he failed to get much power behind his shot, Hennesssey saving comfortably.
There were strong appeals for a penalty in the 53rd minute when Bent was tripped by Richard Stearman following a neat build-up involving Young and Makoun.
It looked as if the foul was committed inside the area but referee Dowd awarded a free-kick just outside, Bent's fierce shot deflecting off the visitors' defensive wall for a corner.
Downing was also unlucky with a volley which struck Stearman before Villa made a double substitution just past the hour mark, Albrighton and Nigel Reo-Coker making way for Gabby Agbonlahor and Robert Pires respectively.
Wolves' attacking ambition had decreased considerably by this stage, and although Jamie O'Hara sent a 25-yard drive just too high, the home side were soon pressing forward again, Young hitting one shot over the bar and another saved by the diving Hennessey.
The skipper was desperately unlucky not to equalise in the 79th minute. There was a suspicion of offside as he moved on to Makoun's superb through ball but the flag stayed down and Young unleashed a ferocious 15-yard drive which beat Hennessey but came back off the underside of the bar.